06MOSCOW13168, ALTAI KRAI: PICKETS AND PLURALISM

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW13168 2006-12-29 09:51 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6382
RR RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #3168/01 3630951
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 290951Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6169
INFO RUEHKV/AMEMBASSY KYIV 0046
RUEHSK/AMEMBASSY MINSK 5378
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 3667
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1833
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2088

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 013168 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM SOCI RS
SUBJECT: ALTAI KRAI: PICKETS AND PLURALISM 
 
1. (SBU) Summary: While Altai Krai is one of the most economically 
depressed regions in Russia, it has an unusually high level of civic 
activity and political pluralism and is home to outspoken liberal 
Republican Party Head Vladimir Ryzhkov.  United Russia dominates, 
but the Communists, Agrarians, LDPR, and liberal parties like 
Yabloko and Union of Right Forces all have solid voter bases. 
Pickets by political parties and civic activists occur regularly, 
and grassroots movements ranging from drivers' rights groups to 
those protesting monetization reforms spring up quickly.  The 
governor and regional administration do not greatly interfere in the 
activities of political parties, NGOs, or the media.  The regional 
Human Rights Ombudsman and Public Chamber are active and have the 
support of the governor and regional Duma.  Although regional 
television is government-run, two of the largest and most popular 
print and Internet media outlets are staunchly independent. End 
summary. 
 
------------------------------------------ 
United Russia Dominant But Not Domineering 
------------------------------------------ 
 
2. (SBU) With 17300 members in the region, 75 local branches, and 48 
Molodaya Gvardiya branches, United Russia (YR) is the dominant 
political party in the region.  Although 27 out of 68 deputies (39 
percent) of the Krai Sovet (regional Duma) are YR members, only 2 
out of 7 committees are YR-led and the Chairman of the Krai Sovet 
Aleksandr Nazarchuk belongs to the Communist, Agrarian, Peoples 
Patriotic Union of Russia bloc "For Our Altai."  Also, in the last 
federal elections in 2003, YR received 29.96 percent of the Altai 
Krai vote in comparison to 37.57 percent for Russia as a whole.  YR 
Executive Committee Head Igor Kokinov explained this by saying that 
Altai Krai is a predominantly agricultural region (47 percent of the 
population), which tends to still vote for the Communists and 
Agrarians.  Indeed, the Agrarian Party received 10.5 percent of the 
Altai Krai vote compared to 3.64 percent for Russia as a whole. 
 
3. (SBU) YR's main goals are to support implementation of the 
national projects and to increase votes for YR in the next election. 
 Kokinov admitted that if he did not deliver 40 percent of the vote 
for YR, he would likely be out of his job.  He said YR actively 
works with 40 social organizations and tries to avoid a "platnaya" 
-- paid -- relationship with the press. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
Yabloko, SPS, Republican Party Small but Tenacious 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
4. (SBU) Yabloko, SPS, and the Republican Party all have active 
organizations in Altai Krai, with memberships of 1,000-2,000. 
However, the parties seem to be struggling from lack of funding. 
All three parties said their electorates were mainly from the 
intelligentsia and that it was getting harder to attract the youth 
vote.  Yabloko Chairman Aleksandr Goncharenko said young people vote 
for who is "cool" like LDPR Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, who 
handed out 100 ruble bills during his 2003 campaign stop in the 
region.  He did not foresee a merger with Yabloko, but could 
envision one with the Republican Party if it continued to be denied 
registration.  He noted that a merger was the only way Altai Krai 
State Duma Deputy and Republican Party Head Vladimir Ryzhkov would 
be reelected. 
 
5. (SBU) Ryzhkov remains a powerful figure in the region, although 
his prospects in the next elections are uncertain if the Republican 
Party is not registered.  According to Kokinov, Barnaul residents 
increasingly appeal to YR for assistance with local problems.  He 
contended that citizens feel Ryzhkov is more concerned with 
maintaining his standing on a national and international level 
rather than serving his local constituency.  Nevertheless, Ryzhkov 
visits the region and frequently speaks at high-profile conferences 
and roundtables organized by his School of Civic Education and the 
former Open Russia branch (now called Open Altai). 
 
---------------------------------- 
Just Russia Still Finding Its Legs 
---------------------------------- 
 
6. (SBU) PolOff met with Andrey Lyapunov and Andrey Igoshin, former 
regional chairmen of Rodina and Party of Life, and now deputy 
chairman and chairman of "Just Russia," respectively.  Just Russia 
recently held its merger conference on December 2, and it was 
obvious the process of consolidating the three parties has not been 
easy.  The tension in the room between the two former party heads 
was palpable and on occasion they openly disagreed with each other 
on party issues.  According to Goncharenko, Lyapunov has reason to 
be resentful since he has had a long political career, while Igoshin 
purportedly "bought" his seat in Party of Life. 
 
7. (SBU) Igoshin estimated that Just Russia had about 8000 members 
 
MOSCOW 00013168  00
2 OF 004 
 
 
in the region, with an additional 1000-1500 still to be added to the 
rolls.  The youth organizations of the three parties were also still 
in the merger process.  Just Russia held three public "actions" 
since December 2 to raise awareness of the new party and is planning 
another before the new year to "constructively criticize" the 
authorities' inability to clear the streets of snow. 
 
8. (SBU) Lyapunov estimated that Just Russia would get 25 percent of 
the vote in the next elections.  He said the Communist and Agrarian 
parties were stuck in the past and the younger generation was losing 
interest in them, while YR stood for the federal and regional 
governments which had "forgotten the people."  Just Russia is 
positioning itself between the two blocs.  It stresses social issues 
and will lobby for increased federal funds and investment in the 
region. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
Communists, Agrarians, LDPR Strong in Altai Krai 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
9. (SBU) The Communists, Agrarians, and LDPR are strong in the 
region, although they are losing voters to YR and Just Russia.  In 
the March 2004 regional elections, the For Our Altai bloc received 
26.88 percent of the vote to YR's 24.43 percent.  LDPR received 
almost 11 percent, although many interlocutors attribute that to 
Zhirinovsky's last minute campaign tour of the region and the 
"buying" of votes. 
 
10. (SBU) Communist Party Secretary Petr Ponarin said YR's close 
association with the agricultural national project has the potential 
to siphon votes away from the Communists and Agrarians in the next 
elections.  However, Ponarin believed that YR is not delivering 
agricultural or other social welfare funds fast enough to make a 
large impact and the rural population will turn on YR.  He said the 
relationship between the Communists and YR resembles that between 
the "reds and the whites" at the beginning of the twentieth century, 
i.e., between the Communists and the party in power. 
 
------------------------------ 
Civil Society Unusually Active 
------------------------------ 
 
11. (U) Pickets, demonstrations, and protests occur with uncommon 
frequency in Altai Krai.  In the past year, there have been major 
protests with the participation of multiple political parties over 
monetization, benefits for mothers with many children, drivers' 
rights, wage arrears, and the proposed pipeline near Lake Baikal, 
among others.  Other smaller pickets happen on a nearly daily basis 
over issues like lack of snow removal and rallying for a Stalin 
monument in Barnaul. 
 
12. (U) The hottest issue for all political parties -- from the 
Communists to Yabloko -- we discovered during a recent trip to 
Barnaul was the recent decision by Governor Aleksandr Karlin to 
forbid all demonstrations, except ceremonial ones like May Day, on 
the city's Central Square.  His reasoning, which was met with 
widespread ridicule, was that large demonstrations caused damaged to 
the statue of Lenin. The Communists and Union of Right Forces (SPS) 
jointly sued the administration (and held joint pickets) over the 
issue, which is now awaiting a hearing in the Supreme Court. 
 
--------- ---------------------------------- ------------ 
Current Administration Progressive or At Least Permissive 
--------- ---------------------------------- ------------ 
 
13. (SBU) Notwithstanding the Central Square/Lenin statue 
controversy, party representatives that we spoke with were unanimous 
that Karlin was an improvement over his predecessor Mikhail 
Yevdokimov.  Yevdokimov, a former actor called the "Siberian 
Schwarzenegger," had great popular support when elected, although he 
was not the Putin-supported candidate.  According to Yabloko 
Chairman Goncharenko, Putin was reportedly furious that his 
candidate was not elected and, in part, because of this election, 
Putin supported a motion to have governors appointed.  However, 
Yevdokimov was by most accounts not an effective governor and after 
his premature death in a car accident, Putin appointed Karlin. 
Karlin has managed to have a special tourist zone established in the 
region and Altai Krai is one of the four regions where casinos will 
be permitted.  According to regional SPS head Vladimir Nebalzin, the 
governor concentrates on strategic regional issues and does not 
interfere greatly with civil society.  The controversy over 
demonstrations in the square was typical of the governor, who does 
not always seem to give full consideration to decisions he makes. 
 
14. (SBU) Altai Krai's Public Chamber, consisting of 45 members, has 
been in existence since May 2006.  According to Head of the Public 
Chamber Apparatus Vladilen Volkov, the Public Chamber is attempting 
to play a role similar to the federal Public Chamber.  Volkov termed 
 
MOSCOW 00013168  003 OF 004 
 
 
the selection process of the 45 members one of the most democratic 
that had taken place among the approximately 30 regional Public 
Chambers.  The 2000 registered social organizations in the region 
sent 150 delegates a congress.  At the congress 30 of their number 
were elected to the Chamber.  Municipality administrations elected 
the remaining 15 at another congress.  It was too soon to tell how 
much of an impact the Public Chamber will have in the region, Volkov 
said. 
 
15. (SBU) Altai Krai's Human Rights Ombudsman Yuriy Visloguzov 
claimed in a conversation with us that he has both budgetary and 
functional autonomy.  There is a separate line item in the regional 
budget just for his office and he has full control over how and what 
to spend it on.  Last year his budget was USD 150,000, and for 2007 
it has increased to USD 207,000.  In addition, in January a 
Childrens Rights Ombudsman will be created to oversee the pressing 
regional issues of education, orphanages, and poverty. 
 
--------------------------------------------- - 
However, City and Region Struggle Economically 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
16. (SBU) Despite these positive elements, it is obvious that the 
city and region are struggling economically.  According to 
Co-Chairman of the Republican Party Andrey Olishevskiy, Altai Krai 
has the lowest per capita income in the Siberian region.  Snow 
removal is barely evident in Barnaul, leading to fender benders at 
almost every intersection.  In Barnaul, political parties frequently 
participate in "subbotniks" (community clean-ups) at the request of 
the mayor.  Each party has adopted a square or monument to maintain. 
 
 
17. (SBU) The region, which was heavily dependent on agriculture and 
military factories during the Soviet period, has not been able to 
compete on the Russian or global markets due to its outdated 
equipment and practices.  Interlocutors told us that even if there 
is corruption or ine
fficient management, the special tourist and 
casino zones provide the best hope for increased employment, 
revenues, and investment in the region. 
 
-------------------------------- 
Some Media Staunchly Independent 
-------------------------------- 
 
18. (SBU) Although most regional television stations and newspapers 
in Altai Krai are either government-owned or influenced, there are 
at least two media outlets that claim to be staunchly independent. 
The Internet news site BankFax (www.bankfax.ru) -- one of the most 
frequented news sites in the Siberian region with about 200,000 
visits per month -- is one of them.  Headed by Valeriy Savinkov 
since 1993, its readers reportedly include high-ranking 
administration members, academics, politicians, students, and major 
business leaders.  The site positions itself as non-partisan and has 
covered controversial subjects. 
 
19. (SBU) There have been two attempts to shut down the site by the 
authorities (BankFax won both in court).  In one instance, according 
to an interview with Vladimir Ryzhkov, authorities reacted to the 
site's refusal to fall in line with a campaign to discredit him 
during the last elections.  In a second, the authorities objected to 
the site's publication of commentary on the Prophet Mohammed 
caricature scandal and charged the site according to Article 282 of 
the Criminal Code -- incitement of ethnic, racial, or religious 
hatred or enmity.  According to Savinkov, there have also been 
inconclusive searches of BankFax's offices by the security services, 
for example, on the basis of an anonymous tip that they were 
printing counterfeit U.S. dollars on the premises.  In January, the 
site plans to move its servers to Arizona in order to be less 
vulnerable to interference by Russian authorities. 
 
20. (SBU) Altapress is the other regional media outlet which claims 
to be independent.  In a professionally-done, English-language 
powerpoint presentation prepared by the group and given to Poloff 
during the December 20-22 visit, Altapress noted that it published 
the region's first independent newspaper in 1990 (the weekly 
"Svobodniy Kurs") and has grown into a 1000-person strong company 
since then.  Currently publishing 11 newspapers and magazines with a 
weekly circulation of 240,000, Altapress owns its own printing 
presses, distribution network, and 300 sales outlets.  It also 
prints 45 newspapers for clients from Kazakhstan, Novosibirsk, and 
other cities in the region. According to Altapress CEO Yuriy Purgin, 
the company's Internet site (www.altapress.ru) is the second or 
third most frequented in the Siberian region.  Altapress also 
inaugurated a new radio station Radio-22 on December 22, with plans 
to expand into television and/or Internet television. 
21. (SBU) According to the presentation, the company is "vertically 
integrated purposefully to maintain its independence from 
authorities, political parties, and oligarchs" and "does not have 
 
MOSCOW 00013168  004 OF 004 
 
 
authorities or oligarchs among its shareholders."  Purgin was 
particularly proud of Altapress's social projects: the School of 
Practical Journalism, in which Altapress managers teach 150-200 
university journalism students basic ethics and professional skills, 
and the Newspaper in Education Project, which uses the Svobodniy 
Kurs newspaper in high schools to teach critical thinking and social 
studies by analyzing and discussing articles and current events. 
Director of the Moscow-based Center for Extreme Journalism Oleg 
Panfilov has chosen Altapress as a regional partner (in addition to 
Open Altai) in the Center's new program "Frontline Russia," a joint 
effort of Panfilov's Center, Internews Russia, and the London-based 
Frontline Club.  The program shows journalism-related documentary 
films and conducts panel discussions afterward.  Topics include war 
photography and coverage of Islam. 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
22. (SBU) Our interlocutors offered differing explanations of why 
Altai Krai tends to be more socially active and politically diverse 
than other regions. Some attributed it to the historical influence 
of trade unions and a strong tradition of populist Communism in the 
region, which has ingrained a willingness to take to the streets in 
citizens young and old.  Most agree that the social activism is not 
necessarily liberal in character and has more to do with the fact 
that the population has achieved success with demonstrations in the 
past and feels confident that it will be heard by the 
administration, media, and political parties when it protests. 
 
 
RUSSELL

Wikileaks

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