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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MOSCOW1350 2009-05-26 13:15 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #1350/01 1461315
P 261315Z MAY 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 001350 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/26/2019 
Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Alice G. Wells; reasons 1.4 
1. (C) Summary: In the past week President Medvedev has 
stepped forward to chastise United Russia, Prime Minister 
Putin's political creation and vehicle for his political 
interests, for its reluctance to engage political opponents 
in public debate. This salvo at United Russia has triggered 
predictable speculation over more contentious relations to 
come between Medvedev and Putin. The question of debates and 
governing party/government performance also comes at a time 
when rumors abound of Medvedev swapping out long-time and/or 
ineffective governors for persons loyal to him.  While party 
insiders assured us of the ongoing, stable cooperation 
between the two leaders, they also told us that the 
uncertainty of the length and depth of the economic crisis 
has left top party leaders unwilling to assume that they can 
coast to victory in fall regional elections, and thereby 
leading them to take steps now such as identifying 
ineffective regional governors, in an attempt not to cede any 
political space to the opposition.  End Summary. 
Criticism - Constructive or Destructive? 
2. (C) On the heels of Prime Minister Putin's interview to 
Japanese media, in which he posited a scenario under which he 
might return as president in 2012 (Ref A), President Medvedev 
criticized the reluctance of United Russia to engage 
opposition parties in public debate over government policies. 
The lashing was construed by many observers as a reaction to 
the Putin's comments and/or criticism of the leadership of 
the government party in failing to appropriately defend 
government actions from opposition attacks. After it recused 
itself from a first debate with Just Russia, United Russia 
presidium secretary Vyacheslav Volodin stepped up to 
represent the party in a second face-off with Just Russia. 
Media reported that Volodin did well, but that party leaders 
want to give rising stars the opportunity to demonstrate 
their abilities - and defend the soundness of United Russia 
(read Putin's) policies on television to citizens, especially 
those who reside in regions holding elections in the autumn. 
3. (C) Despite Volodin's performance, Andrey Silantyev, MGIMO 
Journalism School Dean and United Russia insider, recounted 
for us May 21 that the party is finding it hard to maintain 
its edge, its internal discipline and readiness to meet 
challengers on the field of debate.  United Russia faces no 
real competition - a few select regional elections will occur 
in October, parliamentary opposition groups (Communists, LDPR 
and Just Russia) have pulled in their horns, and Medvedev and 
Putin approval rates remain high; in order words, said 
Silantyev, "life is good - right now." He argued that "all 
capable elites" are now, in one form or another, connected 
with United Russia, giving the party an enormous reserve on 
which to draw for advice and advocacy. This is particularly 
important, he continued, since the party cannot avoid its 
responsibility of keeping the public informed of the steps 
the government (in the hands of United Russia) is taking to 
help citizens weather the crisis. He lamented that few 
regional leaders are capable or confident enough to debate 
the opposition, and that only a handful of national party 
leaders, including Volodin, Minister for Emergency Situations 
Shoygu and Moscow Mayor Luzhkov can hold their own in a 
verbal duel. That is why, he noted, it is not too early to 
give other party leaders the training they need to be ready 
for a media blitz beginning in September in the run-up to 
October regional elections. 
4. (C) Likewise, Mark Urnov, liberal Dean of the Political 
Science Department at the Higher School of Economics, 
cautioned us May 19 against reading too much into Medvedev's 
having chastised United Russia for shrinking from the 
challenge of defending its policies. Exploiting the media 
laws to give national and regional leaders plenty of face 
time with the Russian public is nothing new or out of the 
ordinary, Urnov reminded.  Consistent with Silantyev's 
description of United Russia's activities, Urnov said he 
anticipated difficult economic and possibly social 
circumstances this autumn. He observed that it was therefore 
a wise move on their part to begin to shape thinking about 
the government's economic policies. Urnov said he detected in 
Medvedev's dressing down of United Russia a call to frame the 
anticipated jousting in the context of a larger discussion of 
modernization of the Russian economy. Given the intra-party 
debates (between and among members of United Russia's liberal 
November 4 Club and conservative Patriotic Club) over whether 
and/or how to use the crisis to promote Medvedev's four 
MOSCOW 00001350  002 OF 003 
Fight for United Russia!  Against Whom? 
5. (C) Sociologist and GOR cadre an
alyst Olga Kryshtanovskaya 
told us May 21 that United Russia has some serious internal 
work to do in preparation for the future.  Kryshtanovskaya, 
who herself made news some weeks ago and incurred the wrath 
of some liberal Kremlin critics by very publicly becoming a 
member of United Russia, argued that certain "very smart, 
capable leaders" in Just Russia represent the greatest 
challenge to United Russia. She said that after his recent 
debate Volodin declared that he wants to "neutralize" Just 
Russia Duma member Oksana Dmitrieva.  In contrast to 
Silantyev, Kryshtanovskaya, who specializes in cadre 
research, bemoaned the paucity of capable United Russia 
members ready to step up to advocacy or governance 
responsibilities at the broader regional or national level. 
Nikolai Petrov, Scholar in Residence at the Carnegie Moscow 
Center, noted in recent public commentary at a regular 
Thursday night political discussion group at the bilingua 
cafe sponsored by the polit.ru news website, that there is a 
dirth of qualified campaigners within United Russia's cadres. 
6. (C) Kryshtanovskaya described the formation within United 
Russia of the "Council of Newsmakers," of which she has been 
made a member along with well-known talking heads Gleb 
Pavlovskiy, Mikhail Leontyev and Valeriy Fadeyev. Given their 
experience with the media, they have been called upon to run 
tutorials for United Russia Duma members in preparation for 
increased interaction with journalists. She noted, though, 
that the "20" have also been charged by party leadership with 
"getting the party message out" to mass media outlets via 
talk shows, print interviews, etc. While the broad theme will 
be stability and ability of party/government leadership at a 
time of crisis, she pointed out that even some on the team 
were internally extremely critical of the government, 
singling out in particular Leontyev's bitter intra-party 
criticism of Finance Minister Kudrin and of the policies 
Kudrin has advocated and implemented. 
Benching Some, Bringing Others Up 
7. (C) Reports that United Russia wants to take advantage of 
recently adopted changes to the process by which governors 
are appointed have signaled that additional personnel changes 
to those made by Medvedev during the winter (dismissal of 
four governors) are in the works.  Carnegie's Petrov noted in 
a May 26 Op-ed in the Moscow Times that the results of a poll 
conducted by the Kremlin-connected Foundation of Public 
Opinion (FOM) showed that only just over a third of 
respondents had a favorable opinion of their local leaders. 
Those with the highest approval ratings were leaders in 
Tatarstan, Khanty-Mansiisk and Tomsk; those with the lowest 
were in Tver, Kursk, Saratov, Karelia, Voronezh and Pskov. 
Media reported that United Russia leadership have established 
a special council to review the performance of governors and 
to then put forward to the president names of potential 
replacements for weak or ineffective regional government 
leaders.  This is important, since only United Russia can put 
forward such lists to the president.  According to the 
recently adopted changes to the way appointments of governors 
are made, only the party which has a majority in a particular 
regional parliamentary assembly can propose candidates to the 
president.  Attention is focused on four regions in which the 
terms of sitting governors expire within the next six months 
- Altay Kray, Kurgan, Astrakhan and Sverdlovsk. 
8. (C) Kryshtanovskaya confirmed that the council is 
reviewing the work of sitting governors to determine who is 
ineffective and/or exposing the party to regional criticism. 
She said the call has gone out to regional party leaders to 
find entrepreneurs who have demonstrated management expertise 
and who would be willing to come into government. Thus far, 
in her judgment, the lists are still thin in spite of real 
efforts made to find such people, and a real need to populate 
regional administrations with business-savvy elites. 
Silantyev noted that the party would have no problem finding 
capable people to propose to the president to replace weaker 
leaders. Still, timing of the replacement announcements will 
allow for maximum regional and national political impact. 
Neither thought that there would be any chance that another 
opposition candidate, like Nikita Belykh in Kirov, would be 
appointed governor by Medvedev. 
MOSCOW 00001350  003 OF 003 
9. (C) In avoiding public debate and discussion of economic 
and social policies with the opposition, United Russia has 
relied on the strongly favorable public opinion ratings for 
Putin and, to a lesser extent, Medvedev. However, its recent 
activity to energize its ranks and to prepare to use the 
media, especially state-controlled resources, to present a 
well-rehearsed message and to back-up its claim to be 
channeling capable young leaders into positions of regional 
authority suggests that United Russia is not confident of 
success in autumn elections or that the opposition will 
continue to present so small a challenge to its monopoly on 
power. That said, these developments seem geared to 
responding to political challenges rather than a sign of any 
discord between Medvedev and Putin, both of whom are, though 
to varying degrees, vested in United Russia's continued 
electoral success. 


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