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|09MOSCOW1403||2009-05-29 13:01||2011-08-30 01:44||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Moscow|
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DE RUEHMO #1403/01 1491301
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291301Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3548
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 001403
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV GG RS
SUBJECT: Russia following South Ossetia elections
¶1. (SBU) Summary: The Russian press has been closely following the
South Ossetian election campaign over the past several months.
Reports cover the election mechanics and Russian assistance, which
includes polling stations on Russian soil, election observers, and
"methodological" aid. Pressure by visiting South Ossetian
opposition members led head of the Presidential Administration
Sergey Naryshkin to oppose Kokoity's plan to lift constitutional
presidential term limits in South Ossetia. Analysts, however,
question whether Moscow will rein in Kokoity, since he serves as an
odious but useful tool in keeping Saakashvili on edge. End summary.
Russia following elections
¶2. (SBU) The May 31 elections in South Ossetia have been an object
of close attention in Russia over the past several months. Press
coverage has been extensive, ranging from factual reporting on the
mechanics of the election -- scheduled date, polling availability,
and party participation -- to reports on Russian assistance,
"President" Eduard Kokoity's shady attempts at securing victory and
lifting presidential term limits, and analysis of Russia's goals.
¶3. (SBU) Russia has provided significant assistance to the election
process in South Ossetia, including by designating one polling
station in Moscow in the building identified for use by the South
Ossetian "Embassy," as well as six stations in North Ossetia, where
a large number of South Ossetians live. The Moscow station was
meant to serve the only 250 South Ossetians in town, plus students
at local universities, according to South Ossetian "Ambassador"
¶4. (SBU) Russia has also agreed to send observers to the elections,
according to Igor Borisov of the Russian Central Election
Commission. First Deputy Head of the Duma Committee for
International Affairs Leonid Slutsky said the Russian observers
would number "several dozen," and consist of representatives of the
Federation Council, the State Duma, Russia's Central Election
Commission, the Russian Foundation for Free Elections, the Russian
Public Chamber, the Interregional Fund for Fair Elections, and the
Moscow Bureau for Human Rights.
¶5. (SBU) Borisov expressed confidence that the elections would go
smoothly, claiming that South Ossetian election officials had
"immense experience." Based on an April 6 MOU signed by the
Russian and South Ossetian Central Election Commissions, Russia was
providing "methodological" assistance, including on how to hold
elections "in a destroyed territory." Kommersant quoted a South
Ossetian official saying the elections would follow the "Russian
model" of the December 2, 2007 State Duma elections (sic). Borisov
noted the Russian election commission was not providing financial or
material support to South Ossetian election organizers.
Opposition comes to Moscow
¶6. (SBU) Reporting on the elections in the Russian press
intensified after members of the opposition came to Moscow in May.
As the Moscow Times put it, opposition figures told "seemingly
anyone in the Russian government who would listen" that Kokoity's
shady dealings in his drive to reelection and lifting term limits on
the presidency had discredited the Russian authorities, who had
found themselves "forced to support him despite obvious misgivings."
In addition to calling for a boycott of the elections during
meetings in Moscow, the opposition organized a protest by about 200
South Ossetians near the State Duma on May 21, and plans a picket
line in Moscow on election day.
¶7. (SBU) The pressure from the opposition figures apparently had
some success. Sergey Naryshkin, the head of the Russian
Presidential Administration, suggested on Vesti 24 TV that South
Ossetia should preserve the current constitutional presidential term
Analysts divided over Moscow's policy toward Kokoity
¶8. (SBU) Analysts were divided over Moscow's policy toward
Kokoity's reelection aspirations. Ivan Yartsev on politcom.ru
suggested that Kokoity would simply ignore the Kremlin's "polite
hint" to maintain presidential term limits, while Ekho Moskviy's
Yulia Latynina went even farther. Despite Naryushkin's comments on
keeping term limits, she thought Moscow valued Kokoity as a "most
MOSCOW 00001403 002 OF 002
fundamental thorn in Saakashvili's backside," which caused Moscow to
"put up with whatever Kokoity did."
¶9. (SBU) However, others argued that the elections held wider
implications for Russia's pol
icy in the region. Ivan Sukhov of
Vremya Novostei said Russia, as South Ossetia's "sole supporter,
sponsor, and patron of its independence," had a "vital interest" in
ensuring that the parliamentary elections were "honest and
transparent." If not, it would be easy to blame Moscow for allowing
a "cynical imitation" of democracy in South Ossetia to destroy the
chances for broader recognition of South Ossetia.
¶10. (SBU) As there is little reason to assume the elections in the
corruption-ridden region of South Ossetia will be fair and
transparent, Russia faces the prospect of continuing to work with
Kokoity for the foreseeable future. While many of our MFA
colleagues clearly find him odious, Kokoity enjoys continued support
among other services and may seek to fashion himself on the model of
Chechnya's Kadyrov: corrupt, autocratic, but indispensible to
broader GOR policy goals.