06MOSCOW3218, THE “FEBRUARY THESES”: SURKOV’S PRIMER ON PUTINISM

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW3218 2006-03-30 10:24 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6834
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #3218/01 0891024
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 301024Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3170
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 003218 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/20/2014 
TAGS: PGOV PREL RS
SUBJECT: THE "FEBRUARY THESES": SURKOV'S PRIMER ON PUTINISM 
 
REF: A. 04 MOSCOW 13032 
     B. 05 MOSCOW 7085 
     C. MOSCOW 2136 (NOTAL) 
 
Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs Kirk Augustine, 
 for reasons 1.4 (B & D) 
 
1. (C)  SUMMARY.  A February speech by Deputy Head of the 
Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov to a United 
Russia conference sketched out "basic ideological theses" of 
the Putin Administration.  While not attempting to break new 
ground or crystallize a doctrine of "Putinism," the speech 
portrayed Putin's policies as consistent and coherent.  The 
effort may have been stimulated in part by concern about 
preserving the main policy thrust of Putin,s rule after 
2008, when he is expected to surrender formal power. 
Surkov's main points included that: 
 
-  Material well-being, freedom and justice are the basic 
values Putin is trying to advance in Russia; 
 
-  Russia is culturally part of Europe -- and, by 
implication, needs no solutions premised on its being 
permanently "unique"; 
 
-  Putin's policies avoid the failures of communism and the 
chaos, weakness and injustice of Yeltsin's rule and "return 
the real sense of the word  democracy, to all democratic 
institutions"; 
 
-  Democracy and "sovereignty" ("a political synonym of 
competitiveness") are the two critical requirements for 
Russia to be successful over time. 
 
-  United Russia,s task is "not simply to be victorious in 
2007, but to think and do whatever is necessary to ensure the 
party,s domination over at least the next 10-15 years" in 
order to prevent hostile forces from "knocking Russia off the 
path that has now been marked out for it to go." 
 
The speech may foreshadow a more authoritative exposition of 
some of its themes by Putin in his annual address to the 
Federal Assembly later this spring.  END SUMMARY. 
 
Stepping into the Ideology Gap 
------------------------------ 
 
2. (C)  The Kremlin has often been criticized, especially 
from the "patriotic" end of the political spectrum, for 
failing to deploy a mobilizing ideology that would make clear 
what goals it is pursuing -- and make it more likely that 
those goals would in fact be consistently pursued.  Until 
recently there has indeed been no effort to systematize 
Putin,s domestic and foreign policies or explicitly to 
relate the goals to any larger framework.  Instead, Putin,s 
approach to governance has seemed ad hoc and reactive, and 
sometimes strongly influenced by the financial interests of 
figures in the inner circle.  In our view, the pragmatic 
nature of Kremlin decision-making reflects Putin,s 
personality and operational (rather than academic or 
intellectual) background, but likely also results from a 
broader distrust in Russia -- after 70 years of subjection to 
an ideology that failed -- of all-encompassing doctrines. 
 
3. (U)  Initially delivered February 7 to a United Russia 
(UR) audience, Surkov,s speech was posted on the UR website 
February 22 and then in March carried by some Russian media. 
It was only the third major intervention he has made in 
public debate in the past 18 months, following an interview 
with "Komsomolskaya Pravda" in September 2004 (ref A) and 
remarks to the Delovaya Rossiya business group in May 2005 
(ref B).  Since being reprinted in the press, the speech has 
generated continuing attention as an expression of views by 
an authoritative and influential but rarely-heard-in-public 
"deep insider."  Surkov has since expounded on some of the 
same themes with Ambassador (ref C). 
 
4. (C)  Surkov is indeed close to Putin and is the Kremlin 
operative most directly charged with managing political 
developments, but he is not without rivals in the PA.  Some 
media reports have even asserted that the speech was prompted 
by a need on Surkov,s part to resist attempts to weaken his 
position in the PA.  (Comment.  We heard a similar analysis 
from Carnegie Center analyst Andrey Ryabov, who said new PA 
head Sergey Sobyanin "hates" Surkov, and the latter sought to 
reinforce himself politically through the speech.  End 
Comment)  Most commentators, however, have stressed Surkov,s 
privileged access to Putin and the degree to which the speech 
is assumed to reflect Putin,s own outlook.  Vasiliy 
Tretyakov, editor-in-chief of "Politicheskiy Zhurnal," called 
Surkov "almost the only source of our knowledge of Russia,s 
official ideology," and Kremlin consultant Gleb Pavlovskiy 
 
MOSCOW 00003218  002 OF 004 
 
 
told us March 23 that the timing of the speech reflected the 
fact that "that,s when Putin gave the authorization." 
 
Contemporary History Decoded 
---------------------------- 
 
5. (C)  Surkov identified the "fundamental values" that Putin 
is trying to advance as material well-being, freedom and 
justice.  He immediately linked those goals to argumentation 
that Russia has historically been an inextricable part of 
European civilization and has undergone a broadly similar 
course of development as other European nations.  In Russia 
as elsewhere in Europe, people want to
participate in the 
political life of their society, and over time coercive forms 
of government increasingly give way to processes of 
persuasion and agreement.  Democratic development in Russia 
will thus lead to increasing stress on ideas (ideology) and 
reasoned discourse, Surkov reasoned, and diminish the role of 
"administrative resources" and force. 
 
6. (C)  Noting that Russians hold sharply differing 
assessments of the Soviet experience, Surkov sought to build 
common ground by asserting that the Soviet Union had a 
progressive influence on world development (although Soviet 
society itself was not free or just) and established the 
industrial base on which Russia,s economy still depends. 
Despite such achievements, Soviet decisions were based on 
party dogma rather than efficiency.  The USSR failed to meet 
its citizens' needs, and they -- not the CIA or some 
intra-party conspiracy -- brought it down.  The loss of the 
other Soviet republics that opted for independence was a 
price the Russian people "more or less consciously paid" to 
chart their own course. 
 
7. (C)  Russian society was not ready for democracy in the 
1990s, Surkov said, and it fell quickly into oligarchic rule 
("manipulation instead of representation") that unfairly 
discredited the broader business community.  Privatization 
was overall a positive phenomenon, but in too many cases was 
conducted improperly and unjustly.  Chaos reigned in the 
relations of state and federal authorities.  The outcome of 
the first Chechen war led to a de facto violation of Russia's 
territorial integrity.  Yeltsin,s re-election in 1996 
perverted democratic processes to avoid an outcome some were 
unwilling to accept.   In 2000 the electorate,s support for 
Putin was a decision to "normalize the situation in the 
country," preserving good features that under Yeltsin had 
emerged in distorted forms.  Putin has acted to "return the 
real sense of the word  democracy, to all democratic 
institutions," and his policies -- unlike Yeltsin,s in the 
1990s -- enjoy the support of the people. 
 
"Sovereignty" and Threats to It 
------------------------------- 
 
8. (U)  As in his May 2005 speech (ref B), Surkov stressed 
the concept of "sovereignty," now defined as "a political 
synonym of competitiveness."  Internationally, Russia needed 
to remain among the states that "make the decisions on the 
organization of world order."  If it failed to do so, those 
decisions inevitably would not take its interests adequately 
into account.  Moreover, Russia had for centuries been a 
power in international relations, unlike many surrounding 
states that -- having never in their national lives been 
genuinely sovereign -- now had no difficulty, when unhappy 
with Moscow, in "running to a new master" and "becoming a 
province of some other country."  Russia had no one to run to 
but itself, and had to remain an independent actor able to 
influence world politics in support of its interests.  Moscow 
supported a "democratization of international relations" and 
"fair rules for globalization" to prevent global decisions 
being taken by "diktat." 
 
9. (C)  Surkov identified democracy and sovereignty as the 
two critical requirements for Russia to be successful over 
time.  "Only a society based on competition and cooperation 
among free people can be effective and competitive." 
Moreover, "if we are not an open democratic society, if we 
are not broadly integrated into the world economy...we will 
not have access to the contemporary Western technologies 
without which, I believe, Russia,s modernization will be 
impossible."  Strengthening Russia,s democracy required 
strengthening civil society, including political parties, 
NGOs and institutions of local self-rule. 
 
10. (U)  Surkov identified four present or potential threats 
to Russia,s sovereignty: 
 
-  International terrorism.  Intensive work, including 
international cooperation, would need to continue for decades 
to meet the threat; 
 
 
MOSCOW 00003218  003 OF 004 
 
 
- An external military threat that now was only hypothetical. 
 There was no guarantee today's lack of such a threat would 
continue, however, so keeping Russia,s army, navy and 
nuclear deterrent strong was essential; 
 
- A lack of economic competitiveness.  Many problems existed, 
including "monstrous" delays in structural reforms that 
sooner or later would exact a price.  But Russia could not 
rely on free-market panaceas and expect all problems to solve 
themselves; Putin had identified a realistic path to follow, 
drawing on Russia,s competitive advantages (including the 
concept of an "energy superpower"); and 
 
- A susceptibility to "orange technologies" supported from 
abroad:  "If they (Note:  Surkov does not say who "they" are. 
 End Note) were able to do it in four countries, why not in a 
fifth?"  Russia had in response to develop a 
"nationally-oriented" elite, including a nationally-oriented 
(rather than "off-shore") business class, and to continue 
Putin,s democratization policies.  But while a healthy 
national orientation was essential, Surkov rejected 
isolationist and "Russia for the (ethnic) Russian" tendencies 
that call themselves "patriotic."  If they came to power, it 
would be a catastrophe that might even lead to further loss 
of national territory.  Neither oligarchic revanchists nor 
supporters of a nationalistic dictatorship should be "allowed 
to destroy democracy using democratic procedures" (as Hitler 
did in coming to power via free elections).  Russia must be 
not only for the ethnic Russians, but for all the peoples of 
Russia. 
 
11. (C)  UR,s task, in Surkov's view, was "not simply to be 
victorious in 2007, but to think and do whatever is necessary 
to ensure the party,s domination over at least the next 
10-15 years" to prevent hostile forces from "knocking Russia 
off the path that has now been marked out for it to go."  To 
become a dominating force, UR members would have to 
internalize and propagate the "ideology" set out in 
presidential and party documents. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
12. (C)  The point of Surkov,s speech was not to break new 
ground, and a number of commentators with whom we spoke 
(e.g., Pavlovskiy, Sergey Karaganov, Dmitriy Danilov, Valeriy 
Fedorov, Vladislav Nikonov) tended to dismiss it as "nothing 
new."  Some of them, however, at the same time voiced support 
for the idea of clarifying the Kremlin,s goals and 
strategies, and allowed that Surkov,s speech was a step in 
the right direction in that regard.  Andrey Ryabov told us he 
found the speech "static" in its assumptions and "lacking 
vision," and thus likely to appeal more to the bureaucracy 
than to intellectuals or the middle class. 
 
14. (C)  "Sovereignty" remains Surkov,s key concept for 
addressing both internal ("sovereign democracy") and foreign 
policies.  His linking of  "
sovereignty" to "competitiveness" 
is on the whole positive, both because it encourages Russians 
to focus on what actually works in the empirical world, 
rather than on romantic assertions of ethnic or neo-imperial 
identity, and because it emphasizes the need to sustain an 
achievement, rather than to be recognized as possessing a 
status.  He seems, moreover, to have real insight into, if 
not conviction about, Russia,s need to be a genuinely open 
society if it is to sustain its claim to being a Great Power. 
 At the same time, he is forced by his position -- and 
probably a sincere perception of Russian vulnerability -- to 
subordinate the demands of openness to a need for social 
unity, which is implicitly understood to require central 
control.  The overall tone of his speech is nonetheless far 
from the "enemy at the gates" shrillness of his post-Beslan 
interview in September 2004, with its evocation of "fifth 
columns" and "dividing lines" in every community and 
neighborhood. 
 
15. (C)  Acknowledging that assessments of 20th century 
history remain highly controversial in Russia, Surkov feels 
for a balance that pays enough tribute to all viewpoints so 
that critics of the USSR and those nostalgic for it can join 
hands to support Putin's policies.  His view of the 1990s 
mixes harsh criticism with a refusal to reject everything 
initiated under Yeltsin, but the overall picture he draws of 
the 1990s is nonetheless more negative than his summary of 
the Soviet period, reflecting the continuing desire by 
Putin,s team to be seen above all as a corrective to the 
disorder, weakness, and broadly perceived injustice of the 
Yeltsin years. 
 
16. (C)  Surkov's stress on Russia,s being fully a part of 
European culture seems intended to rebut arguments that it is 
a "unique" civilizational entity requiring political 
 
MOSCOW 00003218  004 OF 004 
 
 
solutions qualitatively distinct from those that have proved 
successful elsewhere in Europe.  In that, in his unequivocal 
declaration that the Soviet Union fell because of its own 
inadequacies, and in his rejection of isolationism and ethnic 
chauvinism, Surkov -- who recently was named by Putin to head 
the organizing committee for Russia's upcoming chairmanship 
of the Council of Europe -- casts himself as a relative 
"Westernizer" or "Europeanist" among Putin's advisors.  He 
shows that he belongs comfortably within the Kremlin 
spectrum, however, by saying that Putin,s "policy of 
democratization" has returned "the real meaning of the word 
 democracy, to all democratic institutions." 
 
17. (C)  Surkov's thesis that persuasion will increasingly 
drive Russian politics implies a need for UR to be an 
effective promoter of Putinist policies, rather than just a 
beneficiary of Putin,s popularity, as it has been to date. 
But he would entrust it only with the downstream task of 
selling whatever the Kremlin has already decided.  His speech 
may, as he hoped, help make UR members "forget about whether 
you,re right-wingers or left-wingers" and recognize that the 
party must be a synthesis of various interests, but it will 
take more than a speech to convert UR into the effective 
political force that Surkov,s thesis of 
politics-by-persuasion would require.  UR,s raison d,etre 
is, by Kremlin design, to support whatever Putin,s team 
tells it to support, and it shows little sign of overcoming 
its congenital passivity and growing beyond Putin,s 
coattails.  In our view, it is unlikely to have more than 
inertial weight in promoting continuity in the succession 
process, unless Putin takes a leadership role in the party 
himself and uses it as an instrument for exerting influence 
on his successor as President. 
 
18. (C)  Ultimately, only Putin -- through his actions and 
words -- can define Putinism.  As some commentators have 
speculated, Surkov's speech may well foreshadow a more 
authoritative exposition of some of the same themes by Putin 
in his annual address later this spring to the Federal 
Assembly. 
BURNS

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