09MOSCOW2619, POPULAR PUTIN CAN’T HELP GOVERNOR AND UNITED

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MOSCOW2619 2009-10-21 11:28 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO5827
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHMO #2619/01 2941128
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 211128Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5163
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 002619 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/21/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PMAR PHUM PINR ECON EFIN RS
SUBJECT: POPULAR PUTIN CAN'T HELP GOVERNOR AND UNITED 
RUSSIA IN SARATOV 
 
Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Susan M. Elliott; reasons 1 
.4 (b,d). 
 
1. (C) Summary: A two-day visit to the upper Volga city of 
Saratov gave us the opportunity to hear about the "power 
vertical," by which federal government and United Russia 
political party authorities exercise control over 
oblast-level activities.  The very top-down approach to 
decision-making has created immense frustration among city 
officials, party and NGO leaders with regional officials. 
They universally denounced the haughty manner in which 
regional officials ignore opposition voices.  City of Saratov 
authorities have managed to build broad networks of 
consultation with opposition parties and NGO's, earning them 
respect from those groups.  Even United Russia leaders 
acknowledged that the malfeasance of the current governor has 
been so damaging that only his replacement (expected in 
March, 2010) could possibly change public perceptions.  The 
change in leadership should allow city and oblast leaders to 
benefit from the overwhelming regional popularity of PM Putin 
(and to a lesser extent, President Medvedev).  End Summary. 
 
Moscow's Influence Strongly Felt 
-------------------------------- 
 
2. (C) Meetings with government, opposition and NGO leaders 
during a September 30-October 1 visit to the upper Volga 
River region city of Saratov revealed little concern for the 
economic crisis.  They painted a picture of frustration with 
the control national government and political authorities 
from Moscow exercise over regional decision making.  The 
legacy of Saratov's past status as a closed Soviet city with 
a concentration of defense industries whose interactions with 
other Soviet regions was minimized means that, even 18 years 
after the USSR ceased to exist, the city has few business 
connections with other Russian cities, and has been passed 
over for investment by a number of foreign firms. 
 
3. (C) Saratov resident contacts we met bemoaned the 
inability of regional authorities to take decisions that 
would enhance the oblast's prospects.  "Week in Saratov" 
deputy editor Olga Kopsheva told us that no entrepreneurs, 
least of all from Saratov itself, were interested in 
investment while the current, corrupt leadership remained in 
power, and while it was clear that a political transition was 
starting.  Saratov Governor Pavel Ipatev, appointed by Putin 
in 2005, has been incapable of placing the oblast's interests 
ahead of his own financial ones.  The icing on the cake came 
when the city's sewer and water delivery systems imploded 
during the summer, leaving residents without safe drinking 
water or waste disposal options for weeks.  Public anger 
boiled over at Ipatev, whose administration had received 
substantial federal funding for such infrastructure 
improvement projects.  Citizens demanded accountability for 
money spend on clearly shoddy work.  Even for United Russia, 
this was the last straw after years of mismanagement, 
signaling the opening of local, intra-party competition to 
replace Ipatev. 
 
4. (C) Moscow's influence is keenly felt in Saratov.  United 
Russia National Presidium Secretary Vyacheslav Volodin hails 
from Saratov and remains involved in oblast-level personnel 
decisions. With Governor Ipatev focused on his financial 
interests in Russia and abroad, including in Abkhazia, 
Volodin's influence is at times considered positive, but is 
generally resented.  A few local newspapers, including "Week 
in Saratov," write extensively on the governor and regional 
corruption.  They have not encountered difficulties from 
security forces for doing so, also indicating intra-party 
disapproval with the governor.  Local government and 
political party officials argued that Volodin has been upset 
by the fact that high approval ratings in the oblast for 
Putin and Medvedev have not helped United Russia, whose 
popular support hovers at 40 percent.  He has therefore taken 
to intervening from Moscow to try to keep the local party 
organization from splintering. 
 
United Russia: Taking No Chances 
-------------------------------- 
 
5. (C) United Russia official Artur Zabbarov told us that 
tensions are palpable between regional and city, and regional 
and national, party officials, which he ascribed to 
shortcomings of the governor's leadership and to resentment 
over Volodin's long-distance involvement in local matters. 
The oblast, he said, was now quietly preparing for the 
 
MOSCOW 00002619  002 OF 003 
 
 
post-Ipatev period.  When the governor goes, the new team 
will be assembled by Volodin, he claimed.  Local United 
Russia officials resent that their influence 
locally/regionally is limited by Volodin's involvement, he 
confided.  He a
lso noted that Volodin has lent his private 
support to increasing the stature and resources available to 
"Molodaya Gvardia" in the oblast to the detriment of "Nashi" 
there.  Molodaya is playing a key role in putting forth a 
public image of United Russia as committed to modern 
development of Russian interests and to helping citizens in 
need. 
 
6. (C) The local party has devoted itself to preparing for 
regional-level inter-party debates that they expect to be 
started after the United Russia party congress in November. 
Confirming what we've heard from national leaders in Moscow, 
Zabbarov told us that the debates were necessary to infuse at 
least some competition into an otherwise stagnant political 
environment, but that they carried a risk for United Russia. 
Speaking frankly, he said that no one in United Russia's 
Saratov branch is able to present a coherent argument or to 
address the kind of criticism or attacks that are to be 
expected in a constructive debate.  A major effort has been 
launched at coaching senior officials, including the Speaker 
of the Oblast Duma, who he contended was the favorite to 
replace Ipatev. 
 
Opposition: Going Nowhere Fast 
------------------------------ 
 
7. (C)  In spite of the limited opportunities to engage with 
the oblast administration, opposition parties work closely at 
the city level with United Russia officials and civil 
servants, and have their respect.  Pravoe Delo leader Igor 
Tanatin is a case in point.  He has a long track record of 
working in the liberal opposition, and currently serves as an 
aide to one of the last Union of Right Forces (SPS) deputies 
in the regional Duma.  He was praised for his 
constructiveness by United Russia and other local and 
regional government leaders.  But he told us that the 
disarray within Pravoe Delo (successor to SPS) at the 
national level had hurt his chances of any local electoral 
success.  He also bemoaned a growing apathy on the part of 
citizens who were more focused on personal lives than on 
public service or on organizing to try to translate their 
dissatisfaction into political representation and policy 
change. 
 
8. (C) Yabloko in Saratov is saddled with the legacy of the 
1990's.  It no longer has any elected representatives in the 
oblast or city legislatures.  Rather, Saratov regional party 
Chief of Staff Mariya Sazonova has focused on bringing 
together a range of special interests, ranging from 
environmental to human rights (including every member of the 
local branch of Soldiers' Mothers group).  Solidarity local 
organizer Aleksey Bityutskiy told us that he and other 
activists are working at the grass roots to help citizens 
challenge government or business decisions that adversely 
affect housing, environmental or educational conditions. 
They have engaged lawyers to offer free legal services to low 
income citizens.  He described any direct political 
confrontation with regional authorities as futile in the 
short term, hoping that over time citizens would turn against 
United Russia. 
 
Local Authorities Focus on Results 
---------------------------------- 
 
9. (C) Saratov City officials painted a positive picture of 
the town's prospects.  Head of the Department of NGO, 
Political Party, and Religious Organization Cooperation Pavel 
Grishchenko, who has visited the U.S. three times in the last 
5 years (Dallas, Texas is Saratov's sister city), spoke of 
the importance of working with any group ready to contribute 
to improving life in Saratov.  His views were echoed by 
Public Chamber Chairman Mikhail Shmyrev and several of his 
Chamber members, who told us that they worked hard to build 
networks among different kinds of organizations.  Their work 
in the city of Saratov was praised by activists, including 
those from Solidarity.  And their comments outlining an 
inclusive approach to problem solving confirmed comments from 
NGO and party officials, including United Russia, contrasting 
local and regional administrations.  Contacts told us that 
city-level bureaucrats seem to be selected more on the basis 
of their qualifications, while oblast-level bureaucrats get 
their jobs on the basis of connections or recommendations. 
 
MOSCOW 00002619  003 OF 003 
 
 
That difference further influences public perceptions of 
effective government (at the city level) versus incompetent 
government at the oblast level, which citizen's link back to 
corrupt Governor Ipatev. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
10. (C) Saratov is in a holding pattern until March of 2010, 
uncertain who will lead it after that point, and uncertain 
whether, and to what extent, United Russia's Volodin will 
continue to be involved with local and regional matters from 
Moscow. United Russia expects their approval ratings to jump 
once Ipatev is replaced and they are preparing to take on the 
opposition in public debates, hoping that Putin's (and 
Medvedev's) popularity will help them. 
Beyrle

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