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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW3240 2007-07-03 09:36 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #3240/01 1840936
R 030936Z JUL 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003240 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2017 
Classified By: Political M/C Alice G. Wells.  For reason 1.4(d). 
 1. (SBU) Summary:  The planned construction of a shopping 
center on the site of an unkempt park in Nizhniy Novgorod's 
industrial district and the political and civic response 
illustrates the difficulties opposition politicians and civic 
activists have in mounting effective protests against 
government power structures that perceive all activist 
attempts as political criticism.  All agree that the shopping 
center will likely be built, with the timing of the 
construction dependent on the December Duma election. 
Dissatisfaction with local government behavior and a growing 
desire for a more responsive government, however, show an 
electorate beginning to tire of the status quo.  But, the 
combination of a defensive government, an unresponsive 
public, and underdeveloped organizational skills has left 
civic activism in the Nizhniy Novgorod Region weak.  End 
Local Government: Reclaiming or Destroying? 
2. (SBU)  In 2006, the Nizhniy Novgorod Region's Investment 
Council approved a USD 130 million project to build a 
shopping mall in "Dubki" Park, which is located in Nizhniy 
Novgorod's industrial district, where almost a third of the 
city's 1.5 million residents live.  The reconstruction 
project was billed as a way of re-juvenating an area that had 
become dilapidated and unsafe for residents, especially at 
night when crime and drug dealing were more prevalent. 
Construction was scheduled to start at the beginning of 2007. 
3. (SBU)  Dubki, which features century old oak trees, is the 
district's only "green" area.  The district houses 
blue-collar workers, many of whom are now under- or 
unemployed as Nizhniy's factories become obsolete, and is a 
strong Communist Party (KPRF) base.  Nonetheless, the 
proposed mall is not viewed as a possible source of jobs for 
the district's residents.  The KPRF immediately protested the 
decision, arguing that federally-mandated green space would 
be further, and dramatically, decreased and that cancer rates 
would increase. 
4. (U) The Nizhniy Novgorod City Council (controlled by the 
United Russia party) responded by re-zoning the park in June 
2007 so that it would no longer be subject to the federal 
requirements.  In the face of continued opposition, Mayor 
Vadim Bulavinov promised that no construction would begin 
unless an expert study, due to take three to six months, 
endorsed the project.  Bulavinov also claimed in the press 
that all the protest activity was being financed by 
"commercial interests" in the district who feared the 
competition that the mall would bring. 
Weak Opposition and Activists 
5. (C)  In a June 28 meeting, KPRF Regional Duma Deputy 
Vladislav Yegorov told us of his frustration that, having let 
Dubki fall into disrepair, the city was now arguing that it 
was unfit for public use and the best solution would be to 
"reconstruct" it, even though this was not popularly 
supported.  He doubted that construction could be stopped, 
but promised that the KPRF would not give up.  A visibly 
distressed Yegorov told us that he had introduced amendments 
that would in future prevent such re-zoning. 
6. (C)  Just Russia (the second Kremlin party) representative 
Svetlana Chermina stated that Just Russia was also strongly 
against the construction, but conceded that since the party 
had only just held its first official meeting in May and was 
still registering members, it had not done anything to oppose 
the decision. 
7. (C)  Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology 
Aleksandr Prudnik assured us that since United Russia 
Governor Valeriy Shantsev had already "spent" the money he 
had received for greenlighting the project, the mall would be 
built.  Prudnik noted, however, that Shantsev intended to 
deliver over 50 percent of the region's vote to United Russia 
in the December Duma elections and would not want to risk a 
reaction at the polls which meant, Prudnik thought, that no 
construction would begin before 2008. 
8. (C) Askhat Kayumov of Dront ecological group was the most 
upbeat about the chances of halting the construction.  Dront 
is assisting in bringing legal action against the government 
and while Kayumov predicted a long process, he optimistically 
MOSCOW 00003240  002 OF 002 
pointed out that there was a brownfield site nearby. 
Although not covered by the press, Kayumov told us that a 
handful of protesters had set up tents in the park a couple 
of weeks ago with the intent of physically blocking any 
construction efforts. 
Uninterested Public 
9. (SBU)  The citizens of Nizhniy are complacent.  Only about 
200, mostly elderly, pe
ople showed up for a rally against the 
shopping center organized by the KPRF and held on World 
Environment Day in early June.  Unscientific questioning of a 
few locals garnered the response that it was a "terrible" 
thing, but that the bureaucrats would do what they wanted 
10. (C)  According to Mikhail Yevdokimov of Yabloko and 
Sergey Vinogradov, an activist for orphans' rights, the 
"Dubki" story is typical.  Civic activism entailed enforcing 
laws that government structures were ignoring, which 
Yevdokimov said, government officials perceived as an attack. 
 Therefore, attracting funds for civic activism from the 
wealthy strata of Russian society remained very difficult, 
since the upper class did not want to antagonize those in 
11. (C)  United Civic Front's (Garry Kasparov's party) 
Nizhniy Novgorod and Ulyanovsk representatives Vladislav 
Lukin and Aleksandr Bragin agreed, noting that bureaucrats' 
personal interests had pervaded every sphere of life. 
Separately, the Nizhniy Novgorod permanent representative to 
the Russian Federation, Sergey Bukin, cited "a guy sitting in 
Siberia" (imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskiy) as a 
reason for the lack of reinvestment and philanthropic 
interest by the Nizhniy local business community.  Lukin was 
inclined to give less weight to Khodorkovskiy's fate as a 
cautionary tale, saying most feared local, not Kremlin, 
12. (C)  The People's Democratic Union (Mikhail Kasyanov's 
party) youth representative Svetlana Sumina commented that 
the middle class harbors a deep distrust about how their 
donations might be used and, as a result, does not support 
such causes.  Konstantin Baranovskiy, Chief Editor for 
Nizhniy's regional edition of the magazine Argument of the 
Week, believed that the middle class was simply not 
interested.  It was more concerned with issues that directly 
affected its economic well-being.  Baranovskiy predicted that 
when a politician who identifies and addresses those 
interests comes along, Russian political apathy will 
disappear.  He criticized the current rush by most political 
parties to the left, telling us that pensions and affordable 
housing were of limited interest to Russia's working 
13. (C)  Civic activists and even opposition parties in 
Nizhniy Novgorod suffer the same difficulties as many Russian 
civil society organizations: they seem unable to transform 
themselves into sustainable organizations that appear 
relevant to the general public.  Their ability to be 
effective is further hampered by a ruling party and a 
bureaucracy that often have their own personal agenda.  The 
encouraging observation is that Nizhniy government structures 
are not oblivious to public opinion being felt at the polls 
in December and will consequently likely delay implementation 
of a major investment project for over a year.  Nonetheless, 
as in much of Russia, civic activism is too weak at this 
point to demand accountability. 


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