06MOSCOW12609, BELGOROD: UNITED RUSSIA, THE GOVERNOR, AND THE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW12609 2006-11-24 11:31 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO7663
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2609/01 3281131
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 241131Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5400
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 3594
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1785
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2036

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 012609 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM RS
SUBJECT: BELGOROD: UNITED RUSSIA, THE GOVERNOR, AND THE 
ORTHODOX CHURCH 
 
MOSCOW 00012609  001.2 OF 003 
 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY.  Major local business owners, who are 
United Russia regional deputies, in conjunction with the 
Russian Orthodox Church, dominate all spheres of activity in 
Belgorod Oblast, which Embassy visited recently.  Governor 
Savchenko is a strong leader who combines a flair for 
populist social initiatives with a socially conservative 
worldview and realpolitik.  He and President Putin are very 
popular and receive credit for Belgorod's strong economy, 
active civil society, and vibrant academia.  A largely 
apathetic electorate has witnessed the introduction of the 
compulsory "Foundations of Orthodox Culture" in its public 
schools and the abolishment of direct mayoral elections.  The 
Russian Orthodox Church permeates life in the oblast and is 
the exclusive provider of religious life.   END SUMMARY. 
 
-------------------- 
Political Influences 
-------------------- 
 
2. (U) United Russia is the dominant political force in the 
35-seat regional legislature, elected in October 2005.  All 
but three of the deputies are owners of major local 
businesses.  United Russia won 53% of the vote in regional 
legislative elections in October 2005 and captured 11 party 
list seats and 17 single mandate seats.  The Communist Party 
of the Russian Federation (KPRF) won 18.5% of the vote and 
has four deputies in the legislature.  LDPR has two and 
Rodina one.  This high-level of KPRF support is a legacy of 
Belgorod's "red belt" status: it is an agrarian, conservative 
region that remained devoutly Communist throughout the 1990s. 
 
------------------- 
The Adroit Governor 
------------------- 
 
3. (SBU) Governor Yevgeniy Savchenko has been in power since 
1993, when he was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin.  At 
the time, he was a member of the Agrarian Party, which was 
affiliated with the KPRF.  Savchenko's switch of allegiance 
to United Russia was not unusual according to Valentina 
Milyukina, a human rights activist and former Yabloko 
candidate, who told us in a November 7 meeting that a 
majority of former KPRF members have done the same. 
 
------------------------ 
Top-Down Decision Making 
------------------------ 
 
4. (SBU)  United Russia also controls the City Council, 
elected in 2003, and the "Head" (Mayor) of the city, Vasiliy 
Potryasayev.  Potryasayev is rumored to be close to Savchenko 
and was originally appointed acting Mayor in 2001.  He won 
the mayoral election in 2002.  In 2005, the regional 
legislature amended the election law so that mayors or 
"heads" of the city are appointed by the City Council. 
Prospective mayors submit plans on governing the city and the 
Council chooses the best plan, the author of which becomes 
mayor.  Potryasayev was appointed again in March 2005. 
Milyukina told us that he was not liked by Belgorodians and 
asserted that he only won the 2002 election with the help of 
administrative resources. 
 
5. (U) Unlike Samara, where a 350,000 signature petition was 
submitted to the Supreme Court and a rally that drew more 
than 20,000 people was held protesting the removal of direct 
mayoral elections, the Belgorod amendment to appoint the 
mayor passed with little protest on the basis of Federal Law 
131, which covers the principles of local self-government. 
 
6. (SBU) Competition among the parties is somewhat desultory. 
 Gennadiy Bukhalin of Rodina mistakenly thought the next City 
Council election would be in March 2008 (Note: it will be 
held in 2007), although he spoke confidently of A Just Russia 
gaining 20 - 30% of the vote.  United Russia Regional 
Secretary Ivan Kulabukhov scorned the idea that A Just Russia 
 
SIPDIS 
was a competitor, claiming that both United Russia and A Just 
Russia were working in the interests of the people. 
 
7. (SBU) Sergei Demchenko of the KPRF, fresh from November 7 
celebrations, maintained that support for the party remained 
strong and claimed that over 100 supporters, many of them 
young, had turned out to commemorate the October Revolution 
anniversary.  (NOTE: Because Embassy's meeting with Rodina 
was interrupted by an elderly Rodina party member who wanted 
to know who would accompany him to the rally, it is not clear 
how many of Demchenko's crowd might have been actual KPRF 
voters.)  Demchenko spoke at length about the difficulties of 
 
MOSCOW 00012609  002.2 OF 003 
 
 
housing, low wages, and growing unemployment and noted that 
Russians wanted a change. 
 
------------------------- 
A Cutting-Edge University 
------------------------- 
 
8. (SBU) Now that Kharkhiv University, the region's former 
academic magnet, is on the other side of the Ukrainian 
border, Belgorod State University is vying to be a premier 
institution, both locally and nationally.  Rector Le
onid 
Dyatchenko told us of the University's nanotechnology program 
and his agreement with Putin's assessment of the science as a 
future engine of the economy.  Further, to attract the best 
and the brightest information technology students, a 
state-of-the-art dormitory has been built across the road 
from the new chapel.  Belgorod State University is also 
unique in having a theological program, strongly supported by 
the Governor and the Russian Orthodox Church.  Dyatchenko was 
vague about the sources of funding for these improvements. 
 
------------------- 
The Governor's Role 
------------------- 
 
9. (SBU) Although Embassy was not able to meet with him 
personally, Governor Savchenko is popular, but reputed to be 
somewhat puritanical.  For example, Belgorod has a curfew for 
under 18-year olds.  Yelena Baturina, Moscow City Mayor Yuriy 
Luzhkov's wife, has come into conflict with Savchenko. 
(NOTE:  In 2004, Baturina's company Inteko-Agro, an 
agribusiness conglomerate run by her brother, Victor Baturin, 
began buying thousands of acres of land in Belgorod.  Her 
appearance in the region, with Vladimir Zhirinovsky at her 
side, was not welcome.  The resulting conflict, which is 
ongoing, has involved both violence, including one murder, 
and the courts.) 
 
10. (SBU) Civil society representatives with whom Embassy met 
spoke very highly of the support that they had received from 
Governor Savchenko.  Red Cross Representative Nina Ushakova, 
a USAID grantee, attributed her TB programs' success largely 
to oblast administration support.  Similarly, Leniza 
Umerkina, the Chairman of Vera, an NGO that works with 
Russian-speaking refugees from former Soviet Republics, 
explained to us that the oblast administration's support 
allowed programs such as hers to survive.  Specifically, NGOs 
that fulfilled the requirements of being "useful programs" 
got office space from the oblast, which also covered their 
utilities costs. 
 
-------------- 
Economy Strong 
-------------- 
 
11. (U) Belgorod oblast, located in the "Black Earth" region, 
depends economically on its agricultural and metallurgical 
sectors and over the last several years has fared well. 
Belgorod oblast's agricultural sector has rebounded since 
2000 due to Savchenko's pressure on extraction and food 
processing companies to invest in and take over the 
management of bankrupt former state and collective farms. 
Savchenko, who holds a doctorate in agricultural economics, 
was the force behind the creation of Russia's first 
"agroholdings" in 2000, and more recently has used National 
Priority Project funding for increasing livestock production. 
 The oblast's iron deposits supply much of the ore used in 
nearby regions and the limestone deposits are used in 
construction.  Projects in the latter are plentiful enough to 
attract day laborers from Ukraine. 
 
12. (U)  The oblast has in place a number of programs to 
improve the quality of life in Belgorod.  These range from 
business and housing loans to financial support for civil 
society organizations that meet certain requirements, 
including being "useful programs." 
 
13. (U)  Savchenko's popularity may stem from a policy of 
providing business loans at below market rates.  The oblast 
not only subsidizes the 4% difference between its rate of 
interest and that of Sberbank's, but also takes on the risk 
of default.  Tatyana Sharova, Head of the Foundation for 
Small Business Development and leader of the United Russia 
supporters group, contended that each business loan created 
jobs.  The housing loan program is aimed at easing pressures 
in the housing market by persuading people to move to the 
outskirts of Belgorod.  Again, the oblast offers low rates 
 
MOSCOW 00012609  003.2 OF 003 
 
 
and ensures that the requisite utility connections and roads 
are built.  Sharova and Vladimir Zubov, head of the oblast's 
international department, were the only people Embassy met 
who had taken advantage of the housing loan program. 
 
------------------- 
Corruption Disputed 
------------------- 
 
14. (SBU) Oblast and NGO representatives dismissed the notion 
that corruption existed in Belgorod.  Other interlocutors 
were not so sanguine.  Mikhail Laptev, an oblast student 
leader involved in youth-related issues, told us that 
election fixing was rampant, especially in the countryside 
where it was harder for observers to be on site.  Bribery was 
also endemic in the region's universities for admissions and 
exams. 
 
-------------------------------------------- 
Compulsory "Foundations of Orthodox Culture" 
-------------------------------------------- 
 
15. (SBU) In a November 8 meeting with Embassy, Father Oleg 
Kobets and other representatives of the oblast's educational 
initiative expressed their pride in Belgorod's introduction 
of the religious course "Foundations of Orthodox Culture." 
The course, as outlined by Father Oleg, is secular and 
historical in nature and strictly observes the constitutional 
separation of church and state.  No mention is made of the 
Bible in primary school.  The course includes the Bible, 
liturgies, iconography, and the need for reverence only in 
the middle and upper grades. 
 
16. (SBU) Father Oleg was extraordinarily pleased with the 
support that he had received from the oblast administration. 
Although none of our interlocutors was able to tell us the 
genesis of the legislation, it passed with ease. 
"Foundations" had been offered as an optional course in 
Belgorod for over a decade and was highly subscribed.  Father 
Oleg was more disparaging about the federal government, 
questioning its lack of financial support.  The textbooks for 
the course were developed locally under the guidance of the 
diocese. 
 
17. (SBU) At a dinner with teachers and a high school 
student, support for the course was unanimous.  The teachers 
described it as a chance to give the next generation the 
education that they were denied during the Soviet period.  In 
sharing the story of her secret baptism in Lipetsk, English 
language teacher Yelena Belyaeva expressed relief at now 
being able to openly practice her religion.  The teachers 
argued that "Foundations" was a pathway to discussing 
differences and exploring other cultures and religions. 
United Russia's Kulabukhov denied that the course was 
compulsory stating that parents could choose to remove their 
children from the course. 
 
18. (SBU) The Russian Orthodox Church's presence is felt 
beyond the public schools.  An oblast map in the Rodina party 
headquarters marked the locations of all of the churches and 
chapels, showing few blank spots.  Belgorod oblast has no 
mosques, synagogues, or other religious places of worship. 
Social programs, such as those run by the Red Cross, also
 
benefit from the volunteer participation of the Russian 
Orthodox Church.  Father Oleg saw a strong role for the 
Church in providing a bulwark against alcohol and drug use. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
19. (SBU) We were struck by Belgorod's political and cultural 
homogeneity.   The compulsory "Foundations" course reinforces 
the message that a great Russia needs a strong Orthodox 
Church. Civil society organizations, under the watchful gaze 
of the oblast administration, operate within a narrow frame 
of reference.  Since they are dependent on oblast funding, 
these organizations are not likely to expand their missions, 
and the trinity of church, Governor, and United Russia appear 
to have matters firmly in control. 
BURNS

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