06MOSCOW4180, PUBLIC CHAMBER GETS INTO GEAR

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW4180 2006-04-20 07:11 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO8659
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #4180/01 1100711
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 200711Z APR 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4486
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 004180 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/03/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR RS
SUBJECT: PUBLIC CHAMBER GETS INTO GEAR 
 
REF: A. MOSCOW 922 
     B. MOSCOW 1082 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reasons: 1.4 (B/D). 
 
1. (C)  SUMMARY.  In the three months since its inaugural 
plenary, the Public Chamber has displayed a flurry of 
activity.  Its many commissions, sub-commissions and working 
groups have begun a busy schedule of meetings on a broad 
range of issues.  Early tensions with the State Duma and 
other bodies have been resolved, or at least put aside. 
Chamber members with whom we spoke remain uncertain that the 
Chamber will ultimately have much impact, but they professed 
commitments to trying to use it to affect change.  Lawyer 
Genri Reznik, one of its most independent members, recently 
told the Ambassador that the Chamber could play a positive 
role in promoting legal reform, but added that if the body 
proved to be nothing but a rubber-stamp, he and like-minded 
members would walk away.  We remain skeptical of the 
Chamber's overall impact but are exploring opportunities to 
influence specific policies and help shape elite attitudes. 
END SUMMARY. 
. 
Chamber Swings into Action 
-------------------------- 
 
2. (C)  After a shaky start in the immediate aftermath of its 
first formal meeting on January 22 (ref A), Russia's Public 
Chamber has swung into gear.  Perhaps its most visible 
initial attempt to establish its credibility came when it 
investigated the Chelyabinsk hazing incident (ref B).  The 
press widely covered Chamber Commission on Public Control 
over Law Enforcement Activities Chair Anatoliy Kucherena's 
trips to Chelyabinsk and meetings with key players in that 
incident.  Most observers agree that the investigation raised 
the Chamber's profile and marginally improved its public 
image. 
 
3. (C)  Particularly in the period since then, the Chamber's 
seventeen commissions and the many recently formed 
sub-commissions and working groups have met regularly and 
frequently.  Their focus has run the gamut from issues of 
high policy -- including some major foreign policy issues 
being addressed by the Commission on Foreign Cooperation and 
Public Diplomacy, chaired by political analyst Vyacheslav 
Nikonov -- to more narrow concerns, such as one commission's 
April 12 session to discuss the quality of music education in 
Russia.  Setting out an ambitious agenda that includes 
improving Russia's image abroad and working with foreign NGOs 
operating in Moscow, Nikonov has told us he will organize 
meetings under the umbrella of the Chamber with foreign 
experts on international affairs.  It had already co-hosted 
(with Gleb Pavlovskiy's Center for Effective Politics) an 
experts meeting with the Nixon Center, and had also hosted a 
meeting a meeting of experts from Shanghai Cooperation 
Organization countries.  He noted that the Chamber plenary 
has usefully highlighted the issue of tolerance in the face 
of repeated attacks on ethnic minorities, and he predicted 
the Chamber would also look at the controversial Baikal 
pipeline issue. 
 
4. (SBU)  Among the bodies formed within the Chamber has been 
an "expert analytical group" that will work on citizens' 
electoral rights.  Created at the initiative of the Free 
Elections Foundation, the analytical group includes a range 
of experts including Golos head Liliya Shibanova.  While 
continuing to work with Golos, the Embassy's USAID mission 
has begun exploring the possibility to working with the newly 
formed organization. 
 
5. (C)  Several members have told us they are more busy with 
Chamber work than they had expected.  Russian Union of Youth 
Chairman Oleg Rozhnov said the pace of Chamber work is making 
it hard to keep up with his other responsibilities.  We heard 
from terrorism expert Aleksandr Ignatenko that the Commission 
on Development of Civil Society and Public Assistance to 
National Projects, of which he is deputy chair, had received 
a flood of proposals, and dealing with them was proving a 
huge challenge.  The Chamber's small staff of ninety people 
was not proving sufficient, Ignatenko said, and while the 
Chamber could call in many experts, doing so required more 
time and organizational capacity than he had at his disposal. 
 Nikonov also commented on what he regarded as a largely 
"useless" staff that showed more initial interest in the 
perquisites of office than in supporting Chamber activities. 
 
6. (C)  Even before the Chamber formally began its work, 
evidence emerged that it had evoked unhappiness from the 
State Duma, which saw the new body as challenging its 
legislative responsibilities.  In that context, many 
observers believed that Chamber members' attempts to 
forestall passage of the controversial NGO law until the 
 
MOSCOW 00004180  002 OF 003 
 
 
Chamber, ostensibly representing civil society views, could 
fully consider it reflected a struggle between the two 
bodies.  After paying lip service to Chamber input, the Duma 
passed the legislation and President Putin signed it before 
the Chamber's first plenary session.  Subsequently, the Duma 
sought to limit Chamber membe
rs' ability to enter the Duma 
building and to attend Duma sessions.  By some accounts, the 
Kremlin was forced to step in and broker a compromise to end 
the embarrassing controversy, which drew media attention.  At 
the time, Ignatenko confirmed to us that the controversy was 
real, with Duma members seeing the Chamber as a threat to its 
authority.  He added, however, that other bodies also felt 
threatened, claiming that Presidential Commission on Civil 
Society chair Ella Pamfilova was extremely unhappy with the 
Chamber, both because it threatened her Commission's 
responsibilities and because she had hoped to be appointed as 
its head. 
 
7. (C)  By all appearances, the Chamber's disputes with the 
Duma and other bodies have at least been put aside.  In a 
recent interview, Chamber Secretary Yevgeniy Velikhov 
described relations between the two bodies as good, and the 
Duma and Chamber have begun holding joint meetings. 
Similarly, on April 12 the Chamber held a joint meeting with 
Prime Minister Fradkov and other government figures at which 
it was agreed that the Chamber would monitor implementation 
of the national priority projects ,provide feedback on the 
public's views, and keep a lookout for bureaucratic 
hindrances that it could publicize and thus help overcome. 
 
8. (C)  That Velikhov heads the Chamber is itself cause for 
encouragement.  A widely respected figure, he has long worked 
closely with the Embassy on a range of issues.  Among those 
has been his active role in promoting the USAID-funded Junior 
Achievement Russia (JAR) program.  Most recently, Velikhov 
proposed to the Ambassador that JAR be showcased as a 
positive example of how foreign-funded NGOs help Russia, and 
he suggested a Junior Achievement-related event as part of 
the Russian G-8 Presidency to highlight business-oriented 
youth in all the G-8 countries and Africa.  Velikhov has 
volunteered to put the Embassy in touch with various Chamber 
commission chairs with an eye to finding areas of 
cooperation.  Nikonov told us he will accompany Velikhov on a 
visit to Washington in mid-May to an academic conference, and 
they will be interested in meetings in Congress and with 
Administration officials. 
. 
ANY REAL IMPACT? 
---------------- 
 
9. (C)  Though the Chamber is now in motion, its members 
continue to have mixed views about whether it will have any 
real impact.  Protestant Bishop Sergey Ryakhovskiy has noted 
to us that he will be closely involved with the Chamber's 
effort to monitor implementation of the NGO legislation, and 
he told us April 14 that he was encouraged by that day's 
discussion of xenophobia issues at a Chamber plenary.  He 
acknowledged, however, that the Kremlin would continue to 
oversee the Chamber's workings and might not allow an 
independent analysis of whether NGOs were being treated 
fairly once the new legislation goes into effect. 
Nonetheless, Ryakhovskiy has insisted that he aims to make 
the most of the opportunity. 
 
10. (C)  In a recent meeting with the Ambassador, lawyer 
Genri Reznik, widely considered one of the Chamber's most 
independent members, made the same point about trying to use 
the Chamber to promote positive change.  Noting that the 
Chamber had been formed to represent civil society, Reznik 
insisted that he became a member to represent his own views, 
which are shared by only a limited part of the Russian 
public.  He intended to use the Chamber to support Putin on 
some issues, such as economic reform, while criticizing him 
on others. 
 
11. (C)  Reznik said he aimed to use the Chamber primarily to 
promote judicial reform.  Corruption remained a serious 
problem in the judiciary, Reznik continued, being 
particularly rampant in the Arbitration Court.  Ensuring that 
all court decisions are made readily available on the 
Internet would be one way to foster transparency, and the 
Chamber should encourage that effort.  The media could also 
play an important role by reporting on corrupt judges, Reznik 
continued, pointing to a weekly column recently initiated in 
the Vedemosti newspaper to report on cases where the court 
ruled in favor of individuals and against large corporations 
or government bureaucrats.  The Chamber could encourage other 
publications to replicate that initiative.  The Procuracy's 
practice of undertaking a general investigation (obshchiy 
nadzor) of a company without objective reasons to suspect 
wrongdoing helped foster corruption, and the Chamber, working 
with the business sector, would study ways of ending that 
 
MOSCOW 00004180  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
practice.  Most of Russia's judges hail from the ranks of 
prosecutors and law enforcers and are not progressives, 
Reznik added; he planned to use the Chamber to look for ways 
of get more defense attorneys appointed as judges. 
 
12. (C)  While hopeful that the Chamber could make progress 
on those fronts, Reznik was uncertain about the prospects. 
He noted, however, that the Chamber's members included a 
significant number of honest and well-meaning people.  If 
such people found the Chamber to be a rubber stamp, he 
insisted, they would quit rather than ruin their own 
reputations. 
. 
THE VIEW OF SKEPTICS 
-------------------- 
 
13. (C)  Many independent civil society activists are far 
more skeptical than Reznik.  Acknowledging that the Chamber 
has members -- Reznik is usually mentioned -- who are 
genuinely independent, the skeptics fear that such people 
will not be able to have any positive impact and will quickly 
be co-opted. 
 
14. (C)  Not all believe the Chamber should be written off, 
however,  Union of Right Forces (SPS) leader Leonid Gozman 
told us recently that with the Kremlin having fully 
discredited all other institutions of government, the Chamber 
deserved a chance.  For the moment, it was "Putin's 
plaything," and its small group of independent members might 
find some leeway to achieve progress, albeit on less 
controversial issues.  With that in mind, SPS had submitted 
military reform proposals to the Chamber in the belief that 
doing so could do no harm and might even result in some 
progress. 
. 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
15. (C)  The Chamber is now out on the track and running, but 
its members may tire of their active schedule if they 
conclude it amounts to little more than a "talk shop."  If 
that is a broader public perception, the Kremlin may also 
lose its enthusiasm for the body.  Despite current claims 
that the Chamber's role complements that of the Duma and 
other bodies, it may come to be seen as redundant. 
Nonetheless, once created, institutions often prove hard to 
dismantle -- for instance, many observers believe the 
Presidential Representatives (PolPreds) have lost whatever 
purpose that innovation may once have had, but it is now hard 
to eliminate.  Even if it shows little in th
e way of results, 
the Public Chamber might similarly linger on.  It has 
already, however, become a political tool, as in its 
investigation and publicizing of the hazing scandal (where 
Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov was seen by some to be an 
implicit target of its activities), and could potentially be 
used to attack or support other political figures as well. 
 
16. (C)  We share the skepticism about the Chamber's 
long-term viability, recognizing that the Kremlin will be 
watching closely and will try to ensure that Chamber 
activities and views do not become "too independent."  While 
a small group of independent civil society activists were 
included as Chamber members, most members hew to the Putin 
administration's line and are unlikely under normal 
circumstances to challenge Kremlin policy.  Nonetheless, 
independent voices have already sometimes emerged from the 
Chamber, and its many structures offer new opportunities to 
seek partners for initiatives, particularly politically 
non-controversial ones.  Velikhov, the Chamber's head, and 
other leading figures have expressed interest in working with 
us on projects, and we are actively pursuing those 
opportunities. 
BURNS

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