06MOSCOW9817, RUSSIAN POLITICAL SEASON BEGINS WITH

WikiLeaks Link

To understand the justification used for the classification of each cable, please use this WikiSource article as reference.
Discussing cables
If you find meaningful or important information in a cable, please link directly to its unique reference number. Linking to a specific paragraph in the body of a cable is also possible by copying the appropriate link (to be found at theparagraph symbol).Please mark messages for social networking services like Twitter with the hash tags #cablegate and a hash containing the reference ID e.g. #06MOSCOW9817.
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW9817 2006-09-06 08:55 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO2048
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #9817/01 2490855
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 060855Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1730
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 009817 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/04/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PINR PHUM RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIAN POLITICAL SEASON BEGINS WITH 
KREMLIN-BLESSED OPPOSITION 
 
REF: A. MOSCOW 9627 
     B. YEKATERINBURG 333 
 
Classified By: PolMinCoun Alice G. Wells: 1.5 (b) and (d). 
 
1.  (C)  Summary:  The Kremlin's involvement, with Deputy 
Head of Presidential Administration Surkov's apparent 
encouragement and Putin's purported blessing, in engineering 
a union of three leftist political parties of marginal to 
moderate popularity as an officially sanctioned opposition is 
the opening salvo in a political season that starts with 
regional elections in October 2006 and culminates in 
presidential elections in March 2008.  Orchestrating a 
leftist flank, beyond leaching support from the Communists, 
helps create the facade of a normally functioning multiparty 
system, and could provide a patina of legitimacy that 
observers believe Putin seeks as he builds his credentials as 
future elder statesman and international magnate.  Some posit 
that, frustrated by Yabloko and SPS bickering, the Kremlin 
may be tempted to kickstart a new rightist political bloc as 
well.  Public apathy, potential regional elite confusion over 
whom to direct administrative resources, and the real -- and 
really internecine -- focus on the intra-Kremlin division of 
lucre could leave this initiative still-born.  Despite the 
public machinations over political parties, we are told the 
real fight is between Putin and those who want him to remain 
a third term.  Putin's personal interest in orchestrating a 
credible transfer of power provides an opening for 
coordinated US, EU/G8 messages on what constitutes a credible 
democratic process.  End Summary. 
 
 
A Second Party of Power? 
------------------------ 
 
2.  (SBU)  After the G8-induced lull and a rigorously 
observed summer dacha hiatus, the Russian political season 
sputtered back to life with the unveiling of the new 
"opposition" alliance -- first floated in late July -- of the 
Party of Life, headed by Chairman of the Federation Council 
Sergey Mironov, and Rodina, led by business tycoon Aleksander 
Babakov (following the sacking of popular founder Dmitry 
Rogozin), with Igor Zotov's Party of Pensioners added in a 
subsequent August 24 announcement. Of the three, only Rodina 
has a presence in the Duma (29 members) and realistic 
prospects for reelection, with the Party of Life (21 
Federation Council members, with branches in 20 republics) 
and the Party of Pensioners (1 Federation Council member, 
with branches in 44 republics) polling in the one-three 
percent range in the 2003 Duma elections. 
 
3.  (SBU)  Observers immediately called into question both 
the union and its opposition status.  Appearing jointly 
before the press for the first time on August 29, the three 
political leaders could not paper over the fact that they had 
yet to agree upon a name for the new union or the date of its 
legal existence, much less a platform, leadership, 
distribution of seats, or electoral strategy.  To the 
contrary, a less-than-enthused Zotov stressed the alliance's 
intention to retain separate party structures, to compete 
independently in the October regional elections, and even 
took issue with the term merger, emphasizing that this was a 
"reorganization" of distinct parties, on an equal basis, 
under a new name.  As for the group's opposition status, 
Mironov reiterated to the press the union's support for the 
President's agenda, as well as his personal intention to vote 
for whomever Putin indicated should be his successor.  (Note: 
Mironov ran for president in 2004, finishing last.  Observers 
saw his candidacy as a Kremlin effort to add legitimacy to 
the campaign.) 
 
4.  (C)  According to official spin, the merger was the 
natural consolidation of "leftist" social-democratic forces, 
precipitated by the seven percent threshold now required to 
achieve representation in the 2007 Duma, with the new left 
flank serving as a counterweight to the centrist United 
Russia, opponent to the free-market, "rightist" democrats, 
and competition to the Communists (and, to a lesser degree, 
Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia).  Duma 
International Relations Chairman Kosachev heralded the 
emergence of a unified left opposition in his recent meeting 
with the Ambassador (reftel) as the culmination of 
democratically grounded political party reforms, which United 
Russia welcomed.  At a minimum, United Russia chief 
ideologist Vladislav Surkov provided a yellow light to the 
loyal opposition, telling Party of Life activists in a March 
2006 private meeting, which subsequently was fed to the press 
on August 18, that the country needed another strong 
political alternative, a "second leg" to United Russia's 
parliamentary dominance that could capitalize on the 
socialist-nationalist mood in the country.  Surkov urged 
 
MOSCOW 00009817  002 OF 004 
 
 
Mironov's supporters to make a run for national office, to 
target those who did not support the government, but were not 
themselves antagonists, and to do so without reliance on 
administrative resources.  Surkov, who in February exhorted 
United Russia members to "salt" (i.e. destroy) their &#x
000A;opponents took a softer line: political tolerance of a second 
party would add stability to a system overly reliant on 
United Russia.  Putin's separate meetings with Babakov and 
Zotov during his Sochi working vacation gave an implicit 
presidential endorsement to the endeavor. 
 
Kremlin-driven, with Putin in the driver's seat? 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
5.  (C)  Observers across the political spectrum agree that 
there was nothing spontaneous about the impending unification 
of the three parties.  Former Rodina party leader Dmitriy 
Rogozin told us that it was Putin personally who pitched the 
merger to Babakov, and not Surkov (with Rodina's 
international relations chairman Mikhail Dimurin repeating to 
us "this is not a Kremlin project -- at least, not a Surkov 
project").  The director of United Russia's Information 
Bureau and longstanding aide to Duma Chair Boris Gryzlov, 
Leonid Vladimirovich Goryainov candidly described the role of 
the Kremlin in encouraging the formation of "stable and 
enduring" political parties.  This would be a key feature of 
Putin's political legacy, he maintained, and reflected the 
importance Putin placed on legitimacy, on institutions 
running according to acceptable norms; in other words, he 
said, "the anti-Yelstin."  Echo Moskvy chief editor Aleksey 
Vennediktov also stressed the importance that Putin attached 
to orchestrating presidential elections acceptable to the 
international community.  These elections must provide 
legitimization for Putin in his after-life as an 
internationally prominent statesman and businessman.  By 
creating the look and feel of a competitive multi-party 
system, Vennediktov told us, Putin reduced the odds of being 
held hostage to United Russia (as Gorbachev ultimately was to 
the Communist Party), drained some support from the Communist 
Party, and maintained appearances in the West.  Putin, he 
reiterated, had no desire to slink into retirement. 
 
6.  (C)  Designating an officially sanctioned opposition 
party also minimized intra-elite tensions, other observers 
posited, without risking a significant erosion in United 
Russia's support or Putin's popularity.  Noting 
dissatisfaction with Surkov among senior United Russia 
members, Carnegie Center's Lilia Shevtsova argued that the 
new grouping could provide disgruntled elite an alternate 
perch to oppose the Surkov-driven "sovereign democracy" and 
its unpleasant parallels to the Communist Party, as well as 
represent a release valve for those who were uncomfortable 
with United Russia's centrist economic policies.  In 
principle, she noted, United Russia members and Yeltsin 
before them had long flirted with the idea of "two wings," 
liberal and conservative, within one party, but had never 
succeeded.  Mironov, both Shevtsova and United Russia 
spin-doctor Gleb Pavlovsky told us, was the perfect champion 
for this new party union: jealous of Gryzlov's preeminence in 
the Duma, unsuccessful in building his own party, and 
suffering a charisma-deficit, he was unthreatening.  Rodina's 
Rogozin agreed, noting that his own failure as a Kremlin 
political project was directly tied to his success in 
attracting "too many" voters, and served as an object lesson 
for Putin and his advisers. 
 
Will a unified right please stand up, or be stood up? 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
7.  (C)  Vennediktov is among those observers who predict 
that a Kremlin-engineered rightist party, "Free Russia," will 
be unveiled in September, which would occupy the political 
ground that infighting and disunity have prevented Yabloko 
and SPS from seizing.  In a recent meeting, SPS party 
chairman Nikita Belikh acknowledged these rumors and 
reiterated his public statements that on-going negotiations 
with Yabloko were a matter of "life and death" for the 
democratic remnants in Putin's Russia.  The problem was not a 
question of leadership of the democratic movement, Belikh 
insisted, since he was prepared to cede to Yavlinsky -- 20 
years his senior.  However, substantial disagreements 
remained over party programs and Yabloko's continued 
criticism of the 1990's reforms and tepid support for reform 
in general.  Belikh questioned whether a political union 
would resurrect the democrats in time for the 2007 Duma 
elections.  Positing that SPS and Yabloko each enjoyed five 
percent and the Republican Party two percent in public 
support, Belikh conceded that the sum of the parts was less 
than the whole, since the leadership could not paper over 
differences among its supporters.  Moreover, any union of 
existing democratic forces would have to undertake a serious 
 
MOSCOW 00009817  003 OF 004 
 
 
"anti-branding" effort to overcome the legacy of distrust 
associated with Yeltsin-era policies and politics. 
 
8.  (C)  Pavlovsky, reflecting ruling party frustration over 
the state of Yabloko and SPS, told us without elaboration 
that it would be easier to build a new rightist party from 
scratch than piece together the outsized personalities and 
historic grudges between existing "democrats" and concluded 
that time was running out for a rightist coalition to emerge. 
 
If you build it, will they vote? 
-------------------------------- 
 
9.  (C)  The Moscow jury is out on whether this latest 
Kremlin political project will endure, much less succeed in 
crossing the seven percent threshold in the 2007 Duma 
elections.  What Mironov did not understand, a disgruntled 
Rogozin charged, was that "the President can say yes, the 
American Ambassador can say yes, but that does not mean the 
Russian voters say yes."  Claiming that 95 percent of 
Rodina's 150,000 supporters were in his camp, despite his 
Kremlin-ordained ouster from the party's leadership, Rogozin 
said he would remain on the sidelines of the political 
alliance and redirect his own energies -- perhaps into a 
"social movement" focused on the potent cocktail of Russian 
nationalism and great power status, as relates to relations 
with Ukraine and Belarus.  A key factor in the new alliance's 
success will be its reception in the regions.  Presented with 
two parties of power and burdened by their own oligarchic 
concerns, Rogozin said, the regional leadership will wait for 
a clearer signal of what is expected or, in Pavlovsky's 
version, try not to offend either side.  It was an untenable 
position for the regional elite, Shevtsova told us, who "want 
one czar and one party."  The Party of Life's inability to 
register in Sverdlovsk and Tuva is evidence of the difficulty 
the union will face in United Russia-dominated regions (ref 
B).  To date, there has been no clear direction from Putin, 
which Shevtsova interpreted as the President giving his "good 
friend" Mironov a new shot at political prominence, without 
investing his own prestige in the venture. 
 
10.  (C)  All the manipulations from above, Shevtsova 
underscored, are indicative of the Russian leadership's lack 
of confidence in the
 Russian people and central preoccupation 
with redistributing wealth within the Kremlin inner circle. 
The jockeying of minor political parties was a side-show, she 
charged when "time is literally money" during the countdown 
to Duma elections and a new Prime Minister in May 2007. 
Without any tacit understanding among administration insiders 
on who leaves power when Putin does, all energies are focused 
on ensuring their own positions and lucrative board 
memberships.  The priorities of the political heavyweights 
were to redistribute assets to themselves, assuage the 
regional elite, placate the public with national projects, 
and secure a consensus on succession.  Political parties, she 
concluded, were not the Kremlin's goal, just an instrument. 
 
What does this mean for succession? 
----------------------------------- 
 
11.  (C)  Machinations over political parties have indirect 
bearing on the succession debate, since it is unclear whether 
any credible successor plans to contest the 2008 elections as 
head of a party or prefers, in the tradition of Yeltsin and 
Putin, to remain above the party fray.  Minister of Defense 
Sergey Ivanov dismissed as nonsense public speculation that 
he would head the Mironov political configuration into the 
presidential elections (with First Deputy PM Medvedev 
putatively his rival as head of a United Russia list).  Those 
who view the new political alliance as a vehicle for 
Mironov's vanity see little mileage in the Federation Council 
Chairman ceding leadership to Ivanov. 
 
12.  (C)  Instead, well-connected political bystanders argue 
that the real contest remains between Putin and those who do 
not want to see him leave office.  It is not a question that 
Putin is indispensable or that others cannot balance the 
power between rival Kremlin factions, Vennediktov told us, 
but rather that the transaction costs of changing Presidents 
were too high.  Pavlovksy flogged this view to us, noting 
darkly that elections were dangerous and that all revolutions 
in Russia have come from above.  There are divisions within 
the presidential administration, as well as within the 
broader bureaucratic strata, and these splits, he intimated, 
would become more fraught as individuals maneuvered for 
personal riches.  "Putin staying on would be easier in that 
respect," he stated, reiterating that change brings 
insecurity, which results in risk and even danger to the 
Russian political system. 
 
13.  (C)  To his open regret, Pavlovsky said that Putin 
 
MOSCOW 00009817  004 OF 004 
 
 
appeared set on leaving office for "complex motives," 
including protecting the constitution, as well as his own 
image, and avoiding alienating the one-third of the 
electorate that did not support a third term.  Mainstream 
political analysts share the view that any figure ruling the 
Kremlin after 2008, even Putin, will be weaker.  According to 
Pavlovsky, Putin was "unsustainably popular," occupying the 
historical zenith of the post-Yeltsin restoration. 
 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
14.  (C)  The election season has started, and whether or not 
the proposed merger of the three leftist parties takes root, 
the intent of the Kremlin and of Putin to direct political 
events is clear.  While public polling indicates that a 
majority of the Russian electorate will take their cue from 
Putin as to whom to support in the Presidential elections and 
political parties appear as open as ever to Kremlin 
blandishments, Putin's personal stake in overseeing a 
credible transfer of power provides an opening for the US, 
acting in concert with the G8 and EU, to lay down consistent 
markers on what constitutes a credible democratic process. 
BURNS

Wikileaks

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: