07MOSCOW465, PUBLIC CHAMBER ANNIVERSARY: THE JURY’S STILL OUT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW465 2007-02-02 16:26 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6668
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #0465/01 0331626
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 021626Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7148
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 000465 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/RUS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/02/2016 
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PINR RS
SUBJECT: PUBLIC CHAMBER ANNIVERSARY:  THE JURY'S STILL OUT 
 
Classified By: POL M/C Alice G. Wells.  Reason:  1.4 (b,d). 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (C) January marks the one-year anniversary of the Public 
Chamber, a body created at the initiative of President Putin 
in order to provide a channel for communication with the 
public and, in part it is believed, to compensate for the 
Kremlin's decision to appoint, instead of elect, governors 
and tighten control over civil society in the wake of the 
Beslan hostage crisis.  Conversations over the last several 
weeks suggest that observers of the Chamber's activities fall 
into two groups:  those who believe that the body has met the 
modest goals set for it, and those who describe it as a 
disappointment. Those who think that the Chamber has been 
marginally successful admit that it has done little to 
address systemic problems during its first year in office. 
The Chamber has been more effective, they believe, when it 
has added its weight to already festering issues, and they 
point to its interventions on behalf of the residents of 
Butovo and its efforts to highlight the brutal hazing of 
miltiary recruit Sychov as evidence.  With the Chamber's 
budget reportedly expected to treble in 2007, and talk among 
some Chamber members of having their two year appointments 
extended, the body seems on the way to either greater 
professionalization, or to becoming a sinecure for those who 
were allegedly chosen for their loyalty to the Kremlin.  End 
summary. 
 
------------------------------------- 
The Chamber's Composition and Mandate 
------------------------------------- 
 
2. (U) The Public Chamber was inaugurated on December 22, 
2005, but actually began work in January 2006.  As mandated 
by law, its initial 42 members were selected by the President 
and they, in consultation with Russian social organizations 
chose a further 42 members, who in turn identified additional 
candidates from the seven Federal districts for a total of 
127 members.  The Public Chamber features 17 commissions and 
numerous sub-commissions and working groups.  It is mandated 
to aid the development of a consensus on "socially 
significant interests of citizens of Russia," in order to 
"find solutions to the most important problems of economic 
and social development."  Defense of human rights is an 
explicit part of the Chamber's mandate. 
 
------------------------------- 
Symptom of a Dysfunctional Duma 
------------------------------- 
 
3. (C) Many believe that the Chamber was confected in order 
to compensate for the tough line taken by the Kremlin in the 
wake of the Beslan hostage crisis.  Others see in the 
creation of the Chamber an effort by an increasingly isolated 
Presidential Administration to bridge the gap between the 
government and its public.  Still others find in the Chamber 
more than a faint echo of the Soviet proclivity to create 
structures and manage through them even those activities that 
arguably should be beyond government control.  In an early 
January conversation, the Moscow Carnegie Center's Nikolay 
Petrov described the Chamber to us as a product of the 
government's reflexive creation of structures intended to 
fill the vacuum created when its centralizing efforts make 
existing institutions unresponsive to the public. Petrov 
believed the evolution of a "rubber stamp" State Duma, 
dominated by one, Kremlin-controlled party, left it unable to 
meaningfully reflect the will of the body politic.  The 
Presidential Administration therefore invented the Chamber as 
a compensatory channel for public feedback, but the selection 
only of "people with whom the Kremlin likes to talk" has made 
it as ineffective as the Duma, he said. 
 
----------------- 
Members' Critique 
----------------- 
 
4. (C) In other conversations, Chamber members ascribed the 
body's limited effectiveness to a variety of structural 
factors: 
 
-- Sergey Ryakhovskiy blamed the potluck nature of the 
Chamber's membership.  Chamber members, he said, lack common 
values and have little sense of common purpose; 
 
-- Ryakhovskiy fingered as well the Chamber's inability to 
require the appearance of GOR officials or Duma deputies at 
its working group or commission meetings.  Too often, the 
 
MOSCOW 00000465  002 OF 003 
 
 
Chamber had to rely on personal connections or good will to 
get the answers it needed; 
 
-- Vyacheslav Glazychev thought the lack of professional 
staff had hindered the Chamber's work.  He hoped that the 
larger budget forecast for 2007 would allow that deficit to 
be at least in part corrected; 
 
-- The Chamber's Andrey Przhezhdomskiy admitted to us that 
his initial skepticism about the Chamber has not abated.  Its 
members are too often "cut off from society" and it has no 
ability to mandate change.  It can only highlight problems. 
Also hindering the Chamber, Przhezhdomskiy thought, was the 
weakness of the Russian NGO community, on which the Chamber 
relies.  "There are too many virtual NGOs," he complained, 
who lack the necessary expertise. 
 
--------------------
- 
HR Activists Offer 
Conditional Thumbs Up 
--------------------- 
 
5. (C) Independent human rights activists offered a tepid 
endorsement of the Chamber, conceding that it at least had 
not been a Kremlin puppet, as some had expected.  The World 
Wildlife Fund's Igor Chestin, who is also a Chamber member, 
thought that Chamber recommendations, even if ignored, at 
least make the government aware of alternative solutions to 
problems.  "For Human Rights" Director Lev Ponomarev praised 
the Chamber's success in bringing the Sychov case to the 
attention of the public, while the Moscow Bureau for Human 
Rights has endorsed its recommendations for fighting 
extremism and suggested that the Chamber's recommendations 
should be mandatory for the Duma. 
 
6. (C) The conditional endorsement of the Chamber by some in 
the human rights community has not been reciprocated.  The 
lion's share of the USD 9.4 million in grants awarded by the 
Chamber has gone to organizations, say critics, close to 
Chamber members.  Memorial and "For Civil Rights" were 
apparently the lone human rights organizations unaffiliated 
with a Chamber member to be recipients of Chamber largesse. 
 
------------------------- 
Gathering Popularity with 
the Public 
------------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) In a December 2006 VTsYuM poll, the public offered 
only faint praise for the work of the Chamber.  Forty-two 
percent of those asked could not say what the Chamber does, 
while only 31 percent of the remainder agreed that the 
Chamber has done good work.  Chamber supporters point out 
that the Chamber is, nevertheless, more popular than both the 
Federation Council and the State Duma. 
 
8. (U) The nine thousand appeals made to the Chamber in its 
first year of existence can also be interpreted as a tacit 
endorsement of its work.  Eighty percent of that number 
concern the behavior of law enforcement agencies.  That may 
be in part due to the high profile of the head of the 
Chamber's Commission for Control over Law Enforcement, 
Anatoliy Kucherena. Przhezhdomskiy and Ryakhovskiy agreed 
that Kucherena's appearance at the side of families about to 
be illegally evicted from their homes in the southern Moscow 
suburb of Butovo last summer and his sure media sense had 
raised the Chamber's profile. 
 
-------------------------------- 
Chamber's Modest Accomplishments 
-------------------------------- 
 
9. (C) On the positive side of the ledger are the Chamber's 
concrete accomplishments, and the promise some believe it 
holds for the future.  The faint praise that some observers 
--and members-- offer for the Chamber is the product of the 
"half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none" calculus currently applied 
to many developments in Russia.  Cited among the Chamber's 
achievements in its first year are: 
 
-- the proposal to create public councils for each of the GOR 
ministries (one has already been formed for the Ministry of 
Defense); 
 
-- its success, through working in the regions, in drawing 
the Ministry of Health's attention to problems in reform 
contemplated through the National Projects; 
 
-- a decision, lobbied by the Chamber, to move casinos 
outside city limits; 
 
MOSCOW 00000465  003 OF 003 
 
 
 
-- Putin's eleventh-hour decision to relocate an oil pipeline 
further from the shores of Lake Baikal; 
 
-- reversal of the conviction of a driver convicted in an 
automobile accident that killed Altay Governor Yevdokimov; 
 
-- opposing a bill that would have limited protests.  The 
Chamber termed the legislation an "attack on citizens' 
rights"; 
 
-- recommendations for amending 18 bills submitted to the 
Duma in 2006.  (Critics contended that the Duma largely 
ignored the Chamber's suggestions, and Chamber Secretary 
Yevgeniy Velikhov conceded in a recent interview that 
business lobbyists are more effective in shaping 
legislation.) 
 
-- encouraging the formation of public chambers at the 
regional level; 
 
-- adding its voice to the international outcry over the 
draconian NGO law. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
10. (C) In those cases --casinos, the NGO law, public 
councils for ministries, Butovo, Sychov-- where a better than 
expected outcome has been achieved, the Chamber has in fact 
been a secondary factor, adding its voice either to that of 
an outraged public or to an already wavering government. 
Valeriy Fadeyev, a member who, according to Glazychev, 
godfathered the Chamber, told us recently that the Chamber 
was at best a "cheerleader,"  unable to effect change on its 
own. Still, he said, cheerleaders are important. The Chamber 
provides legitimacy and weight to the efforts of those 
attempting to right an obvious wrong or soften the impact of 
a new measure contemplated by the government.  Fadeyev 
likened the role of the Chamber to that of Human Rights 
Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin who, Fadeyev thought, must carefully 
select both the issue and the time to raise it if he is to be 
successful.  Ryakhovskiy hoped that uncertainty in the face 
of looming Duma elections might provide the Chamber with more 
opportunities to be effective, although he acknowledged that 
room for maneuver could just as easily shrink as the prospect 
of change at the top of government creates further rigidity 
below. 
BURNS

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