06MOSCOW5378, RUSSIA’S DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION TO CONTINUE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW5378 2006-05-19 16:20 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO1131
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #5378/01 1391620
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 191620Z MAY 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6191
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 005378 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM PINR RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA'S DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION TO CONTINUE 
COOPERATION, BUT GENUINE UNITY UNLIKELY 
 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns. Reasons 1.4 (B/D). 
 
1.  (C) SUMMARY:  Ambassador met separately May 16 with 
democratic opposition leaders Nikita Belykh of the Union of 
Right Forces (SPS) and Irina Khakamada of Our Choice.  Belykh 
insisted that the democratic opposition must do more to 
rejuvenate the movement and demonstrate that it is capable of 
initiating creative ideas.  The SPS might change its name as 
part of this broader effort.  Belykh said that he favored 
continued coordination among democratic parties, but 
prospects for genuine unity, especially between Yabloko and 
SPS, were increasingly dim.  He called President Putin's May 
10 address to the nation disappointing since it failed to 
offer solutions to major problems.  Belykh bemoaned the 
inability of the Belarus opposition to generate greater 
enthusiasm among voters, but predicted that President 
Lukashenko would come in for increased domestic criticism as 
Russia tightened the economic screws.  Khakamada shared 
Belykh's assessment that Russia's democratic opposition would 
continue to coordinate its activities, but the principal 
parties likely would remain independent.  On Russian 
perceptions of the U.S., both Belykh and Khakamada favored 
continued engagement with the Russian leadership, with 
Khakamada urging less public criticism and continued economic 
cooperation in order to keep open bilateral communications. 
END SUMMARY. 
. 
------------- 
NIKITA BELYKH 
------------- 
 
2.  (C) In a May 16 meeting with the Ambassador, the leader 
of the SPS, Nikita Belykh, suggested that he might have to 
rename the party to attract broader public support.  Belykh 
explained that the democratic opposition needed an infusion 
of new goals and younger, energetic leaders to demonstrate to 
Russia's electorate that it was capable of generating new 
ideas.  Renaming the party would be part of this effort.  The 
SPS leader professed continued support for cooperation among 
democratic opposition parties but said prospects for unity 
between his party and its main rival, Yabloko, were 
increasingly dim.  Strategically, the two parties had 
different approaches to policy issues, especially at the 
federal level.  Yabloko, for example, thought the 1990s were 
a disaster for the country, whereas SPS was less negative 
about developments under Yeltsin.  Belykh said the parties 
were moving in different directions, with Yabloko forming 
alliances with environmentalists and human rights activists, 
while SPS would likely take in Vladimir Ryzhkov's Republican 
Party.  In the meantime, SPS and Yabloko continued to 
cooperate and had agreed not to compete against each other in 
local and regional elections. 
 
3.  (C) Asked about the role former Prime Minister Mikhail 
Kasyanov might play in this equation, Belykh was uncertain. 
On the one hand, Kasyanov might be waiting to see if the 
democrats would be able to unite in anticipation of joining a 
consolidated movement.  On the other hand, the former PM 
could be waiting for the opposition's unity efforts to fail 
so that he could offer a "third option" to voters.  Belykh 
thought the latter approach would harm democrats in general, 
including Kasyanov, who would likely be perceived by voters 
as simply counting on his previous government experience to 
attract support without offering a specific program.  It 
would be better, Belykh suggested, if Kasyanov joined forces 
now with other democrats. 
 
4.  (C) In response to the Ambassador's question about 
President Putin's May 10 address to the nation, Belykh 
thought it had been disappointing.  While praising Putin for 
raising difficult issues like the country's demographic 
problems, his proposed solutions did not go far enough.  For 
example, offering money to women who had more babies would 
simply result in the further "Islamization" of Russia since 
most of the government's subsidies would likely go to women 
who were already predisposed to having large families. 
Corruption also had to be addressed.  Belykh said 
corruption's effects could be mitigated by increased 
political competition, such as that found in democratic 
societies.  In authoritarian systems the problem becomes 
entrenched, especially when corrupt government officials act 
in concert with businessmen seeking official favors. 
Nonetheless, Belykh believed that Putin's address had been 
popular among many Russians because of its emphasis on 
building up the military, challenging the U.S., and 
protecting the nation.  That was "scary," Belykh concluded 
without further comment. 
 
5.  (C) Turning to issues beyond Russia, Belykh observed that 
the opposition in Belarus had shaken up society there, but 
had not been fully prepared for the government's strong 
 
MOSCOW 00005378  002 OF 002 
 
 
interference during the March electoral campaign or for its 
subsequent onslaught against opposition members.  While it 
was true that Aleksandr Lukashenko had cheated during the 
elections, Belykh emphasized, a ma
jority of voters still 
probably supported him.  Much of that support could 
dissipate, however, if Moscow continued to step up pressure 
on Belarus, particularly with respect to energy prices and 
other economically-related subsidies.  Belykh subscribed to 
the view that personal relations between Putin and Lukashenko 
were poor.  Nonetheless, union talks would continue despite 
the current state of relations between the two countries' 
leaders. 
 
6.  (C) On Russian attitudes toward the U.S., Belykh 
suggested that Washington should offer a more consistent 
message regarding its Russia policy.  In the past, it had 
been relatively simple to distinguish between the Republicans 
and Democrats in Washington, but now he perceived schisms 
even among Republicans, citing Senator John McCain's call for 
cancellation of the G-8 Summit as an example.  Pointing to 
Vice President Cheney's speech in Vilnius, Belykh said he 
thought it had been crafted for U.S. domestic consumption, 
mainly to stem criticism from the Democratic Party.  Belykh 
thought that Washington had to decide whether energy or 
democracy was more important in this part of the world. 
. 
--------------- 
IRINA KHAKAMADA 
--------------- 
 
7.  (C) The Ambassador also met with Irina Khakamada of Our 
Choice on May 16.  Responding to the Ambassador's questions 
about her association with Kasyanov and prospects for 
democratic unity, Khakamada asserted that Kasyanov was not a 
politician in the traditional sense, but he knew how to 
mobilize resources to achieve goals.  He would be able to 
rely upon his previous government experience, including his 
ties to supporters and other contacts, to move the country in 
a positive direction.  Khakamada acknowledged that Kasyanov 
had little public support at the moment (roughly one 
percent), but she attributed that to several factors, 
including constraints on media access that limited his public 
exposure, an increasingly disinterested electorate that was 
more concerned about materialism than politics, and the 
continuing machinations of Presidential Administration Deputy 
Head Vladislav Surkov. 
 
8.  (C) More broadly, Khakamada noted that the democratic 
opposition would continue to coordinate its activities, 
especially at the local and regional levels, but implied that 
genuine unity among the parties was unlikely.  She pointed to 
the relative success of the opposition in the Moscow city 
elections last December as an example of tactical 
cooperation, but noted as well that the Kremlin, along with 
its supporters in United Russia, had made it difficult for 
the opposition to compete.  She cited specifically the 
imposition of a 10 percent threshold for entering the Moscow 
city legislature.  The opposition had encountered similar 
obstacles during local and regional elections in March. 
 
9.  (C) On Putin's address to the nation, Khakamada concluded 
that the President's remarks reflected the views of the 
"political-ideological class" and characterized Putin's 
leadership style as "instrumental democracy."  Although 
Russia's economy was doing reasonably well, she did not think 
momentum could be sustained without corresponding progress on 
building democracy.  In the absence of stronger democratic 
institutions, the situation in Russia would only worsen.  In 
any case, Khakamada said, she was not convinced that the 
majority of Russians would understand all the nuances of 
Putin's address and would hear only what they wished to hear. 
 
10.  (C) Asked about the U.S. role in Russia, Khakamada said 
that the situation was complicated.  The Russian media had 
virtually reverted to the Soviet period when anti-American 
sentiment abounded.  The conflict in Iraq, U.S. support for 
the "color" revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, and overall 
U.S. activism on issues affecting Moscow's interests rubbed 
Russians the wrong way.  More consistency would also be 
helpful.  Khakamada said public criticism of Russian policies 
was not helpful, pointing out that the current power 
structure was less pliable and more self-confident than 
during the Yeltsin era.  In spite of the cooler bilateral 
relations, she encouraged continued economic cooperation, as 
well as coordination on other practical issues.  Maintaining 
mutual trust in these areas could eventually improve the 
atmosphere for discussion of more sensitive political issues. 
BURNS

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