Cablegate: Zhirinovskiy's New Sideman: Lugovoy
DE RUEHMO #4599/01 2611806
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 181806Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3969
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 004599
EO 12958 DECL: 09/18/2017
TAGS PGOV, PINR, RS
SUBJECT: ZHIRINOVSKIY’S NEW SIDEMAN: LUGOVOY
Classified By: Political Officer Bob Patterson: 1.4 (d).
1. (C) The mercurial Vladimir Zhirinovskiy staged yet another impressive act of political theater on September 17 with the surprise announcement that the number two position on his party’s ticket would be filled by Andrey Lugovoy, the former FSB officer accused by Scotland Yard of orchestrating the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko. The announcement made Zhirinovskiy’s party, the LDPR, front-page news in virtually all major Russian newspapers and drew greater attention to what had been a lackluster kick-off to the party’s Duma campaign. Opinions vary in Moscow as to the reasons behind the move. Zhirinovskiy may hope that the hoopla surrounding the appointment of Lugovoy will revive the apparently flagging fortunes of his party. End summary.
2. (SBU) In the past months, it appeared that LDPR was on the ropes, crippled by high-level defections of top party officials to other parties. The most recent blow was the loss of long-time Zhirinovskiy confederate Aleksey Mitrofanov, who defected to Just Russia (SR) in late August. LDPR had fallen behind in the funding race as well, dropping to last place among the top four parties in the second quarter of 2007, according to the Central Election Commission. Public opinion polling, such as a mid-September survey by the Fund for Public Opinion, showed the party scraping along at the seven-percent minimum required for joining the new Duma. Levada polling showed LDPR losing about a percentage point every month since May.
3. (SBU) One would not have believed that LDPR was in trouble, though, to judge by Zhirinovskiy’s swagger and bravado over the past two days. His stem-winding oration before his party’s congress in Moscow on September 17 provided a broad overview of Zhirinovskiy’s peculiar views on international relations, domestic policies, and party politics, punctuated with his usual histrionics about Western interference and perfidy. He also boldly predicted that LDPR would win a minimum 15 percent of the Duma seats, and that he had hopes for twenty percent. (His electoral math sees United Russia winning half of the seats, with 12 percent for the Communist Party and 8 percent for Just Russia (SR). He dismissed all other parties, including the “liberal” parties of Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, out of hand.) Moreover, he spun the defection of LDPR members to other parties as a “purge” of the party that served only to strengthen it against its rivals, particularly SR, which he referred to as a party of “mercenaries.”
4. (SBU) Perhaps to set the stage for Lugovoy’s debut, Zhirinovskiy reserved special vitriol for the role played by Great Britain over the centuries and today in denying Russia its “proper place” in the world, according to press reports. At a press conference on September 18, he launched a diatribe against a hapless reporter from Voice of America, who had asked Lugovoy about the need to deal with the problem of international criminal investigations. During his tirade, Zhirinovskiy blasted the United Kingdom for sponsoring terrorism in Chechnya (implying as well that the U.S. was behind the events of September 11). He criticized London for its campaign of “espionage and lies,” insisting that the British government was responsible for Litvinenko’s death.
5. (U) Throughout the press conference, Lugovoy appeared uncomfortable in his new role as straight man for Zhirinovskiy. It also appeared that he had been reprimanded by his new boss about the rank order in the party. Lugovoy pointedly retracted his statement of a day earlier that he had ambitions to run for President, coyly saying that every Russian would want to be the leader of such a great country, before gamely insisting that Zhirinovskiy had the mettle to replace Putin. Lugovoy seemed completely surprised by a question about his plans as a deputy were he to win a Duma seat, and he said something about working to be helpful to the government and the Russian people. (Zhirinovskiy interrupted to say that Lugovoy’s military and business experience made him an excellent candidate for the Duma committees on defense and security, particularly in dealing with questions of economic security.) When asked, Lugovoy reiterated his statement of September 17 that he was not seeking a position in the Duma in order to win immunity for he was protected, “like all citizens,” by the Constitution.
6. (C) Embassy interlocutors disagreed on the reasons behind Zhirinovskiy’s enlistment of Lugovoy. Chief Editor of “Economy and World Relations” Andrey Ryabov suggested that
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the Kremlin had pushed Lugovoy onto the LDPR list in order to somehow provide him with protection. Political technologist Stanislav Belkovskiy told us that it was Zhirinovskiy’s idea to bring Lugovoy on board in order to improve LDPR’s hand in the campaign. Belkovskiy thought that regional elites would see the selection of Lugovoy who, he said, enjoyed the personal protection of Putin, as a sign of Kremlin favor for Zhirinovskiy and his party. It remains to be seen how Lugovoy’s new role will affect LDPR’s election prospects. It seems odd that the Kremlin, which presumably would want to see the furor over the Litvinenko matter end as soon as possible, has kept the matter front and center by sanctioning Lugovoy’s entry into Russian politics. Burns