07MOSCOW868, KOMI: ALL PARTIES REGISTERED; UNITED RUSSIA IN

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW868 2007-03-01 13:25 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO1694
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #0868/01 0601325
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 011325Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7825
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 3826
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1953
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2247

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 000868 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM PHUM SOCI RS
SUBJECT: KOMI:  ALL PARTIES REGISTERED; UNITED RUSSIA IN 
THE LEAD 
 
REF: MOSCOW 04353 
 
MOSCOW 00000868  001.2 OF 004 
 
 
------- 
Summary 
------- 
 
1.  (SBU) Observers in Komi predicted to Poloff in 
mid-February that United Russia would capture solid 
pluralities in the March 11 republic-level and local 
elections, with "For a Just Russia" poised to place a 
respectable second, and the Communists and LDPR expected to 
cross the seven percent threshold.  National leaders have 
stymied local representatives of "democratic parties" from 
joining forces, as a result, there is little prospect of 
electoral success.  The good news is that all parties that 
sought to register were successful and there has been no 
reports of "gross" violations of electoral laws.  End 
summary. 
 
------------------------------------- 
Six Parties Registered For Elections 
------------------------------------- 
 
2. (U) On February 7, the Komi Republic's Election Commission 
(REC) announced that six parties (YR, SR, LDPR, KPRF, SPS and 
NV) had successfully registered for the March regional 
elections and would compete in a mixed 
party-list/single-mandate race for the thirty seats in the 
newly-enlarged parliament. (There will be fifteen party-list 
and fifteen single-mandate seats.)  In the Republic's current 
20 seat parliament, YR deputies control fifteen seats and 
independents the remaining five.  In Ukhta's 25 seat city 
council, YR deputies now control approximately 13 seats, 
Yabloko controls 1 seat (Yabloko's Valeriy Torlopov is the 
deputy chairman of the city council and was selected by his 
peers.  He is no relation to Vladimir Torlopov, a YR member 
and the current head of the Republic.), and independents the 
remaining 11.  Parties registering for the elections reported 
no significant problems in either location. 
 
3.  (SBU) Since YR membership developed following the last 
regional elections, the March 11 elections will be the first 
city elections in which YR is running as the party of power. 
The head of Ukhta's administration is selected by the city 
council members from among themselves.  The current head of 
the city is an independent and is running again.  The 
consensus of those with whom Poloff met was that it would be 
extremely unlikely for the current "independent" city head to 
be reappointed if YR wins a majority of city council seats. 
 
------------------- 
YR Sweep Predicted 
------------------- 
 
4.  (SBU) During a mid-February visit, Komi's United Russia 
(YR) ideologist and Dean of Syktyvkar State University 
Vyacheslav Antonov predicted to us that YR would finish first 
in the region with sixty percent of the vote (and at least 51 
percent of the vote in municipal elections), while the 
Communist Party (KPRF) would be second, and SR a likely 
third.  Although KPRF does not appeal to younger voters, 
Antonov thought high participation rates by the party's 
numerous pensioners would allow it to finish strongly. 
Antonov predicted that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) 
would reach the seven percent threshold.  He believed the 
more leftwing program of "For a Just Russia" (SR) could 
appeal to YR and KPRF voters.  He predicted that neither the 
Peoples' Will party (NV) nor the Union of Right Forces (SPS) 
would make it into the Republic's parliament. 
 
5. (SBU) Everyone Poloff spoke to in Komi, regardless of 
political affiliation, agreed with Antonov's prediction about 
YR.  Most, however, expected SR to run a strong second, 
despite a merger that saw some members of the regional 
Russian Party of Life and the Russian Party of Pensioners 
leaving the fold.  Opinions varied widely on prospects for 
LDPR and the KPRF.  LDPR's regional branch has had internal 
problems and has been forced to rebuild.  Due to Komi's 
"gulag" roots some contacts told Poloff that KPRF had never 
been genuinely popular in the Republic, although it had 
always managed to be represented at the federal and local 
levels. 
 
6. (SBU) Igor Sazhin, a leading human rights activist in 
Komi, was more positive about KPRF's chances.  He believed it 
had an established record, while the newly-minted SR remained 
a nebulous concept.  Sazhin predicted that approximately 
forty percent of Komi's electorate would not vote.  He agreed 
 
MOSCOW 00000868  002.2 OF 004 
 
 
with Antonov that YR would win about sixty percent of the 
votes cast.  Other Embassy contacts agreed that YR would 
finish first, but with 30 - 40 percent of the vote. SR or 
KPRF would finish second in their view and the LDPR a more 
distant fourth.  All agreed that SPS and NV would not cross 
the seven percent threshold. 
 
--------------------------------- 
Administrative Resources On Show 
--------------------------------- 
 
7. (SBU) In Syktyvkar, YR's headquarters in the center of 

town were undergoing extensive renovations and featured 
well-dressed staff and a "help desk" on the first floor. 
Poloff met with five of the branch's leaders.  They were in 
charge of:  voter outreach, work with civil society, youth 
groups, ideology, and regional party leadership.  The group 
was well-organized and professional and had plenty of glossy 
campaign leaflets, key chains, and pens.  The youth group 
leader, a businesswoman who manages a branch of her family's 
butchery and is running for a seat in the Republic's 
parliament, was especially impressive.  She described the 
party's regional efforts, which featured seminars to train 
journalists and a pro bono legal assistance clinic where 
attorneys from YR's youth group explain laws and legal 
processes.  The remaining parties operated out of very 
modest, one or two-room offices in rundown buildings with 
several people typically sharing the lone computer.  (It 
appeared most offices did not have Internet access.)  In 
Ukhta, Komi's second city, most parties were running their 
campaigns from their homes.  The YR branch in Ukhta was a 
smaller, mirror image of YR Syktyvkar. 
 
--------------------- 
SR: "Known Quantity" 
--------------------- 
 
8. (SBU) SR's foremost advantage was that its regional list 
is headed by former head of the Republic Yuriy Spiridonov and 
former head of the Rodina party's regional branch and former 
mayor of Syktyvkar Sergey Katunin. Many view Spiridonov as 
more independent of the Kremlin than the Republic's current 
YR-led administration.  Observers expect that many would vote 
for SR in order to end YR's monopoly on power.  Local media 
contacts told Poloff that Sergey Mironov, leader of the 
national SR party, would make a trip to the region before 
March 11.  Katunin alleged that SR had 1,200 members in the 
Republic, and estimated their number would reach 3000 by 
March. SR, said Katunin, would win twenty percent of the 
vote. (Katunin was not a particularly appealing candidate. 
He exuded a weary cynicism and did not seem charismatic, or 
particularly trustworthy.  The Ukhta city official who 
accompanied Poloff had done business with Katunin when he was 
Mayor of Syktyvkar and alleged that he had gone bankrupt as a 
result of Katunin's "dishonesty.") 
 
-------------------------------- 
SR:  Regional Unification Rocky 
-------------------------------- 
 
9. (SBU) Media claims that SR's regional branches were having 
difficulties unifying were "ploys to discredit" the party, 
said Katunin.  He admitted that some of the leaders of the 
Pensioners Party and the Party of Life had left during the 
merger process.  We were told by others that the SR 
constituent parties were not consulted before the merger was 
announced, nor was there agreement over who would head the 
regional SR. As a result, support for SR immediately after 
the merger was very weak. A regional newspaper on February 13 
reported that Babakov had flown to Syktyvkar to sort out 
problems between Katunin and Spiridonov. 
 
---------------------- 
LDPR: A Family Affair 
---------------------- 
 
10. (SBU) LDPR's Komi regional branch is led by Valeriy 
Babkov; Babkov's son, Sergey, leads LDPR's Ukhta branch. 
Currently there are no LDPR members in the Republic's 
parliament or in the local legislative bodies.  However, the 
region does have one Duma Deputy.  According to Sergey, by 
2003 inept regional leadership had almost destroyed the 
party.  Since then he and his father have rebuilt the 
regional and local branches.  They allege LDPR has 1300 
members in the region and a representative office in each of 
the Republic's 20 political jurisdictions.  The party has 148 
candidates running in the March 11 regional and municipal 
elections (30 split amongst the party list and single-mandate 
 
MOSCOW 00000868  003.2 OF 004 
 
 
seats for the regional parliament, 20 running for seats in 
Syktyvkar's city council, 6 running in Ukhta city council 
race, and the remainder competing for seats in other local 
legislative bodies).  Babkov boasted that LDPR leader 
Vladimir Zhirinovskiy had visited the Republic five times, 
most recently on February 10. 
 
----------------------- 
KPRF:  Back to the USSR 
----------------------- 
 
11. (SBU) Leonid Musinov, head of the Komi KPRF, termed SR, 
Patriots of Russia, and NV "Kremlin creations" whose purpose 
was to reduce the influence/power of his party.  Throughout 
the meeting Musinov returned to the fall of the USSR and the 
U.S.'s alleged role in it. His main point was that Russians 
enjoyed a much higher standard of living during the Soviet 
period and would live better now had the USSR survived. 
 
------------------------------- 
End of an Era?  SPS and Yabloko 
------------------------------- 
 
12. (SBU) Aleksandr Popov, the leader of SPS's Syktyvkar 
chapter and a former mayor of a small Komi city, said that 
national authorities were resisting the SPS regional branch's 
efforts to cooperate with Yabloko. Yabloko's local leader in 
Ukhta, Valeriy Torlopov, is the current deputy chairman of 
the Ukhta City Council, where he has served for seventeen 
years, and is well-respected in the Republic. Constituents 
have resisted his recent attempts to retire. Torpolov 
criticized the national leaders of democratic parties for 
their failure to develop projects that would better reflect 
the parties' platforms. Neither SPS nor Yabloko is expected 
to win seats in the Republic's parliament. 
 
-------------------- 
Another YR Monopoly 
-------------------- 
 
13. (SBU) Igor Sazhin, Head of Memorial's Syktyvkar branch, 
described to us a very slight erosion of freedom of speech in 
the Republic over the past two years. He listed two specific 
examples of media products that had been canceled and/or 
otherwise silenced because their coverage had at times 
portrayed Komi Republic authorities in a less than flattering 
light.  He mentioned that a provocative regional television 
talk show "Detail & Detail" was canceled after a number of 
its episodes included participants critical of the regional 
government.  Also closed was the local newspaper "Zyryanye 
Life" (www.zyryane.ru).  Sazhin characterized the newspaper 
as having extremely well-written stories that offered 
viewpoints different from those found in the 
Republic-owned/controlled publications.  He alleged that 
after several articles reporting on nationalist and extremist 
movements in the Republic, the newspaper was taken to court 
and fined 20,000 rubles.  The owner sold his shares of the 
company and the newspaper was eventually evicted from its 
offices.  Journalists continued online publication, using 
their own funds, until December 2006. 
 
14.  (SBU)  Two independent sources corroborated Sazhin's 
comments.  Igor Bobrakov, senior editor of the new magazine 
"Sign" and a USG exchange program alumnus, agreed with Sazhin 
and added
his own tale of having lost a previous editing 
director job at a local Syktyvkar newspaper after it printed 
stories critical of the regional government.  Without 
endorsing Sazhin's conclusions, Pavel Kochanov, General 
Director of the Internet-based Komionline news agency 
(www.komionline.ru), confirmed an "almost imperceptible" 
decrease in opposition opinion in local media.  With more 
than eighty active media outlets in the Republic it would be 
difficult to prove a perceptible erosion of freedom of 
speech, he said.  His personal experience, similar to that of 
Bobrakov, however, showed that reporting critical of 
government officials in the Republic, is not viewed kindly. 
Kochanov was forced to leave his job as director of 
Komiinform (www.komiinform.ru), the newspaper controlled by 
the Republic's Administration, when stories were published 
documenting the shortcomings of government officials.  Upon 
leaving Komiinform, about 10 years ago, Kochanov started 
Komionline, which provides news to Komi media outlets. 
 
------- 
Comment 
------- 
 
15.  (SBU) Although YR will win a plurality in the Republic's 
 
MOSCOW 00000868  004.2 OF 004 
 
 
Parliament as well as in other legislative bodies, 
conversations during the mid-February visit revealed some 
positive developments: 
 
-- All parties that sought to participate in the regional 
elections were successfully registered. 
 
-- Despite complaints of lack of access to administrative 
resources, there have been no reports of "gross" violations 
of electoral law. 
 
-- There are opportunities for popular local candidates, like 
former Republic head Spiridonov and current deputy head of 
Ukhta's city council, Yabloko's Torpolov, to win seats in the 
March elections. 
 
16. (SBU) Finally, given its wealth of administrative 
resources and control of the Republic's power levers, winning 
only thirty percent of the vote in the Republic elections, as 
some in Komi predict, would certainly be seen by YR Syktyvkar 
as tantamount to defeat. 
BURNS

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