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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW5000 2006-05-11 14:38 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow


DE RUEHMO #5000/01 1311438
R 111438Z MAY 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 005000 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/05/2016 
REF: A. MOSCOW 1434 
     B. 05 MOSCOW 13441 
Classified By: Minister Counselor for Political Affairs Kirk Augustine. 
  Reasons: 1.4 (B/D). 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  In a May 4 meeting, well-connected Ekho 
Moskvy head Aleksey Venediktov told us he believed the 
prospects for an extension of President Putin's presidency 
beyond 2008 had increased, because the two figures Putin was 
"testing" as potential successors were both gaining little 
political traction.  Noting that infighting for personal gain 
was growing increasingly intense in the Kremlin, Venediktov 
said that Presidential Administration (PA) Deputy Head Igor 
Sechin, for his own business reasons, was behind the refusal 
to give UK businessman William Browder a visa, and that Putin 
was prohibiting anyone from interfering.  Having told us a 
month and a half ago about worrisome trends for his radio 
station, Venediktov sounded more upbeat in our May 4 
conversation.  END SUMMARY. 
2. (C) Aleksey Venediktov, chief editor of the independent 
Ekho Moskvy radio station, reiterated the view he has 
expressed in several earlier conversations (ref A and 
previous) that First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev 
remains the front runner to succeed Putin.  Nonetheless, 
Venediktov said, Medvedev's prospects had weakened recently, 
given his failure so far to gain political traction.  The 
national priority projects were not producing noticeable 
results, and if that continued, it would destroy Medvedev's 
chances.  Similarly, Deputy Prime Minister and Defense 
Minister Sergey Ivanov was not making political gains, 
despite a recent counterattack against those trying to damage 
his reputation. 
3. (C) Under those circumstances, Venediktov continued, the 
Kremlin continued to cultivate a "second tier" of potential 
successors.  In Venediktov's view, Russian Railroads CEO (and 
long-time Putin friend) Vladimir Yakunin remained a leading 
figure in that group.  Head of the government apparatus 
Sergey Naryshkin appeared to have moved into it as well. 
Naryshkin lacked dynamism and had not proven effective, 
Venediktov acknowledged, but those factors were less 
important to Putin than personal loyalty, and Naryshkin was 
seen as a trustworthy and loyal figure.  Venediktov added 
that Putin had been meeting Naryshkin with growing frequency 
lately, typically twice a week. 
4. (C) Putin still aimed to step down at the end of his 
second term in 2008, Venediktov believed, but the current 
situation had increased the chances that Putin might still 
decide to seek an extension of his presidency.  Were he to do 
so, Putin might make concessions to the West -- perhaps on 
Iran -- in hopes that Western governments would be more 
inclined to accept such an extension, Venediktov believed. 
5. (C) Meanwhile, key Kremlin players were focusing with 
increasing intensity on "feathering their own nests," 
Venediktov said.  Reiterating that he believed Putin aimed to 
take a lucrative job in the energy sector should he step 
down, Venediktov noted that Putin was in no way trying to 
discourage his inner circle's financial dealings.  Insiders 
were more interested in their own profits than in policy 
considerations, Venediktov argued.  Though PA Deputy Head 
Sechin and PA Aide Viktor Ivanov might share similar 
political orientations, for instance, their relationship was 
cool because each was focused on personal gain and their 
financial interests did not always correspond. 
6. (C) Venediktov cited the GOR's refusal to grant a visa to 
Hermitage Capital Management CEO William Browder as an 
example of the Kremlin mood.  Sechin was behind that move 
because Browder had, in effect, challenged Sechin's 
activities with regard to Surgutneftegaz.  Venediktov 
recounted realizing that Putin intended in no way to halt 
such counterproductive behavior based on a conversation with 
G-8 Sherpa Igor Shuvalov about the Browder case.  Venediktov 
recounted arguing that Shuvalov should try to intervene on 
Browder's behalf, since the matter would directly affect the 
atmosphere at the G-8 Summit, where Tony Blair would be sure 
to raise it with Putin.  As recounted by Venediktov, Shuvalov 
responded by silently expressing his frustration and saying 
that Putin had told him "to mind his own business" with 
regard to the Browder issue. 
7. (C) In a late-March conversation, Venediktov had told us 
that for the first time, he was seeing troubling signs about 
Ekho Moskvy's future.  Venediktov identified three disturbing 
sets of developments: 
-- Ekho had long maintained ownership of Radio Arsenal, 
which, although having a far weaker radio frequency, had 
offered a "life boat" in case Ekho itself was suddenly shut 
down.  While Arsenal did not offer a strong b
ack-up, it gave 
the staff a sense of confidence.  In our March conversation, 
Venediktov said Ekho was now selling off Arsenal, creating a 
greater sense of vulnerability. 
-- According to Venediktov, the Kremlin had previously 
enforced an informal "no-poaching" policy on Ekho's staff. 
As of late March, Venediktov said he had begun detecting 
efforts to entice staffers away from Ekho to other stations. 
This, combined with the establishment of an alternative 
talk-radio station under GazpromMedia's ownership (and thus 
by implication with GOR encouragement) might constitute the 
first concrete signs that the Kremlin was aiming to weaken 
Ekho with the ultimate aim of lessening the station's 
influence ahead of the 2007-08 national election cycle. 
-- Venediktov said that in March, the Federal Security 
Service (FSB) had for the first time begun examining Ekho's 
financial records, notably its tax documents.  The FSB was 
far from launching a formal investigation, Venediktov 
continued, but its actions were worrisome. 
8. (C) In our May 4 conversation, Venediktov was more upbeat. 
 Ekho continued to do well financially, he reported, and 
having ownership of its staff's shares registered in Delaware 
(ref B) helped protect it from legal attack by the Kremlin. 
While there had been some attempts to entice his staffers to 
move to other stations, they were not proving significant. 
Most notably, figures close to the Kremlin continued to give 
interviews on Ekho, Venediktov said, noting that Russian 
Railroads chief Yakunin had agreed to do so within the next 
few weeks.  The Kremlin seemed reluctant to close down Ekho 
in part out of fear of an international outcry, Venediktov 
said.  Hence, he concluded, barring a total breakdown in 
U.S.-Russian relations, his station would continue to thrive. 
9. (C) Though Kremlin insiders likely view Venediktov with 
suspicion, he apparently continues to enjoy access to them, 
making him a valuable interlocutor for us.  He has long seen 
those Kremlin insiders as acting primarily for personal 
financial gain, but his suggestion that Shuvalov is 
exasperated by such behavior may imply a broader discontent 
among those on the margins of Putin's immediate circle. 
Venediktov has been telling us for some time that he sees 
Medvedev as the front-runner to succeed Putin.  In that 
light, we are struck by his comment about Medvedev's failure 
to gain political traction and the possible implications for 
the succession.  He has in the past speculated to us that 
Ekho remains strong in part because Medvedev may regard it as 
an instrument in his presidential bid.  If so, Venediktov may 
 see Medvedev's lack of political success as boding ill for 
Ekho Moskvy.  Suggesting that Naryshkin is emerging as a 
member of the second tier of potential successors remains a 
minority view, although we have occasionally heard comments 
from others to that effect.  Venediktov is more upbeat now 
than he was two months ago about his station's prospects, 
although the disturbing trends he mentioned in our previous 
conversation deserve continued close attention.  The station 
continues to thrive, however, and remains among the most 
important independent voices on Russia's media scene. 


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