Monthly Archives: December 2005


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05MOSCOW15735 2005-12-30 09:56 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #5735/01 3640956
P 300956Z DEC 05

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 015735 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/30/2015 
REF: A. MOSCOW 8535 
     B. MOSCOW 7972 
Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs Kirk Augustine. 
 Reasons 1.4 (B/D). 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, the 
only declared candidate for the 2008 presidential election, 
has faced a tough and thus far frustrating slog in his bid to 
unite the democratic opposition behind him.  During several 
recent visits to the country's regions, Kasyanov has been 
shouted down by organized protesters, assaulted with eggs, 
physically blocked from entering meeting places, and on one 
occasion prevented from speaking to supporters because of an 
alleged bomb threat.  The latest setback occurred last week 
when supporters of a rival candidate for the leadership of 
the Democratic Party prevented him from attending the party's 
congress.  Kasyanov's chief advisor acknowledged to us 
December 23 that his boss was disheartened by recent events 
but remained undeterred and will press ahead with his 
political quest.  END SUMMARY. 
2.  (C) In recent months, former Prime Minister Mikhail 
Kasyanov has sought to position himself as the only viable 
democratic presidential candidate (reftels).  He has made 
limited progress in this regard, gaining support from Nikita 
Belykh of the Union of Right Forces (SPS); Irina Khakamada, 
leader of Our Choice and a former presidential candidate; and 
Ivan Starikov, maverick member of the SPS Political Council 
and former campaign manager for Mikhail Khodorkovskiy's 
failed bid to run in a State Duma by-election earlier this 
month.  Kasyanov's prominence at a December 12 Civil Congress 
of democratic politicians and civil society activists might 
also have boosted his hopes, though many remain suspicious of 
Kasyanov and believe he must do more to burnish his 
democratic credentials.  Among other things, many democrats 
view his reputation for corruption and his close ties to 
Russian business "oligarchs" as an Achilles heel.  As he 
worked to establish his credentials, Kasyanov was also hoping 
that a take-over of the Democratic Party (DP) would give him 
a launching pad for his political ambitions and allow him to 
avoid creating his own party.  But in that endeavor, too, his 
reputation for corruption preceded him, and even some of his 
sympathizers acknowledged to us that he had tried to buy his 
way into control of the party. 
--------------------------------------------- - 
--------------------------------------------- - 
3.  (C) Oleg Buklemishev, long-time advisor to the former 
Prime Minister, told us December 23 that Kasyanov had fully 
expected strong pressure from the Kremlin and other opponents 
of his candidacy, but the intensity of the opposition and 
level of vitriol associated with recent events in Moscow and 
Kursk had come as an unwelcome surprise.  Buklemishev said 
the fiasco surrounding the December 17 DP congress in Moscow, 
in particular, had caught Kasyanov and his supporters 
completely offguard.  He confirmed media reports that some 
delegates had prevented Kasyanov from attending the main 
congress, where Kasyanov had hoped to be elected party leader 
and, subsequently, to use the DP as the vanguard for a united 
democratic opposition for the 2007-08 election cycle. 
Instead, the current Chairman of the DP's Central Committee, 
Andrey Bogdanov, was elected party leader, while Kasyanov and 
company were forced to hold a separate, hastily arranged 
meeting elsewhere in the city. 
4.  (C) Buklemishev contended that the Kremlin had 
effectively split the DP by buying off Bogdanov and his block 
of delegates.  Such a divide-and-conquer approach was a 
staple Kremlin political strategy, he offered, but the use of 
physical intimidation to lock out a viable challenger was 
"childish" and demonstrated a new low even by Russia's 
deteriorating democratic standards.  In spite of the lockout, 
Buklemishev claimed that DP delegates from 32 regions threw 
in their lot with Kasyanov at the alternative congress, which 
was also attended by Belykh and Khakamada.  However, 
Buklemishev acknowledged that Kasyanov's failure to take over 
the DP had undermined his longer-term political strategy, 
which he, along with other members of Kasyanov's advisory 
team, would re-evaluate in coming weeks.  Among the options 
was creation of a totally new political organization.  He 
asserted, however, that Kasyanov intended to press ahead with 
his political quest despite the mounting pressure against him. 
5.  (C) Buklemishev went on to say that Kasyanov had 
MOSCOW 00015735  002 OF 003 
confronted similar opposition the previous week during a 
visit to Kursk, which he described as a DP stronghold with 
more than 10,000 local members (NOTE:  Some media reports 
suggested that the number of DP members in Kursk is closer to 
13,000, including several members of the local legislature). 
v reported that local authorities had initially 
denied permission to host a party meeting at two venues 
before finally settling on a third location.  The last-minute 
decision did not deter organized protesters from showing up 
at the approved location.  At the entrance to the building 
Buklemishev said several hundred pensioners and members of 
the pro-Kremlin Nashi demonstrated against Kasyanov.  Local 
police stood by as scuffles broke out between Nashi members 
and DP supporters; police intervened only when some of the 
Nashi members began to damage the property because, as a 
senior police official explained to Buklemishev, local 
authorities would blame the police for any damage. 
Buklemishev said a row of parked cars prevented Kasyanov's 
vehicle from entering the street where the building was 
located, and Kasyanov was forced to walk the last block on 
foot.  Much of the crowd had backed off at that point, but at 
least one protester threw an egg at Kasyanov (but missed). 
Buklemishev added that a subsequent meeting with the public 
was canceled because of an alleged bomb threat. 
6.  (C) Buklemishev noted that Kursk was Kasyanov's third 
foray to the regions since he announced his presidential 
candidacy.  Protesters had greeted Kasyanov elsewhere, but 
not with the intensity he encountered in Kursk.  (NOTE: 
Kasyanov is not the only member of the democratic opposition 
to face such difficulties.  Garri Kasparov, head of the 
United Civic Forum, has experienced similar protests in his 
regional travels.)  In addition to the continuing 
demonstrations, Buklemishev said Kasyanov found it hard to 
get positive media attention, and Duma Deputy Aleksandr 
Khinshteyn continued to dog him with allegations of 
corruption.  Khinshteyn's latest charge was that Kasyanov had 
attempted to bribe DP members to support his bid for the 
party's leadership.  Dismissing Khinshteyn as a hack whose 
disreputable activities were well known even in Soviet times, 
Buklemishev nonetheless admitted that further allegations of 
corruption, however false, did not help Kasyanov's cause and 
would bolster the Kremlin's relentless campaign to undermine 
the candidate's political message.  Buklemishev added that 
Kremlin pressure even extended to prospective clients of 
Kasyanov's private consulting business, MK Analytika.  The 
firm had virtually no business because potential customers 
feared retaliation from authorities for their association 
with Kasyanov. 
7.  (C) Both Buklemishev in his meeting with us and Kasyanov, 
in his public statements, have tried to spin recent setbacks 
in a positive light.  Kasyanov has cited the DP congress 
affair, in particular, as an example of the Kremlin's fear of 
the popular will and criticized the extent to which 
authorities will employ ruthless "elements of 
totalitarianism" to maintain their grasp on power.  Kasyanov 
also said in an interview with Ekho Moskviy radio December 19 
that he did not view his failure to secure the DP leadership 
as a defeat and reaffirmed his intention to challenge the 
current political establishment.  That may be so, but 
Buklemishev's comments to us, which might or might not be 
disingenuous about Kasyanov's indignation at Kremlin tactics, 
make it clear that Kasyanov's campaign is in considerable 
disarray before it has had a chance to get off the ground. 
Kasyanov's resilience will be tested as he tries to rescue 
his effort to unite the democratic opposition, and the odds 
against him will remain daunting.  In addition to continued 
strong opposition from the Kremlin, Kasyanov still needs to 
demonstrate to the general public that he is not corrupt and 
prove to the liberal opposition that he is a genuine democrat 
worthy of support.  Nonetheless, the Kremlin's dislike of the 
upstart challenger is evident.  As Kasyanov underscored in 
the Ekho Moskviy interview last week, the "rules of the game 
offered by the state are unplayable because the player on one 
side can just overturn the chessboard at any time."  Recent 
events in Moscow and Kursk seem to signify that authorities 
are prepared to employ a full array of options against 
Kasyanov -- and to ensure that his chessboard remains 
unbalanced and unusable. 
8.  (C) Ironically, Kasyanov appears to share with Putin one 
benefit -- the absence of a credible alternative.  We have 
previously noted that while Putin is genuinely popular, he 
also benefits from a broad perception that there is no 
alternative to him.  To a certain extent, Kasyanov benefits 
from the same perception among those at the "democratic" end 
MOSCOW 00015735  003 OF 003 
of the political spectrum.  One prominent commentator, for 
instance, recently complained about Kasyanov's failure to 
anticipate the Kremlin's hardball tactics against him and his 
"pathetic" Ekho Moskviy interview but still said that 
Kasyanov was, faute de mieux, the only plausible democratic 
challenger for the presidency. 
9.  (C) We would also note that from its beginnings, people 
close to the Kasyanov effort have spoken of mounting an 
electoral challenge for the presidency in 2008 but have, in 
fact, appeared more hopeful about the possibility that 
Kasyanov might emerge as a near-consensus candidate of the 
political and economic elite at an undefined time of national 
crisis before 2008 arrives, potentially obtaining the nod 
from Putin himself for the succession.  That seemed very much 
an outside chance even early in 2005, when things were going 
badly for Putin, and seems even less likely now. 
Nonetheless, many continue to note that despite Khinshteyn's 
continuing drumbeat of allegations against Kasyanov, there 
has yet to be any legal action taken against him, and others 
perceive an obscure Kasyanov link through Roman Abramovich to 
Putin's entourage.  We continue to see Kasyanov's prospects 
as very limited but also regard his "campaign" efforts as 
being as much a negotiation offer as an attempt at outreach 
to the public.