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Cablegate: A Kremlin "Spare:" Presidential Candidate Bogdanov

VZCZCXRO7713
PP RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #0153/01 0221218
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221218Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6229
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 000153

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV RS
SUBJECT: A KREMLIN "SPARE:" PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BOGDANOV

1. (SBU) Summary: Freemason Grand Master and leader of the
Democratic Party of Russia, Andrey Bogdanov expects to make the
presidential ballot despite the party's infinitesimal showing in the
December Duma elections and lack of any public appeal or party
machinery that would suggest how he collected the requisite two
million signatures in support of his race. Political analysts
insist that Bogdanov is a Kremlin "project" and a hedge against the
possibility that both Communist Party leader Zyugonov and LDPR's
Zhirinovskiy could abruptly withdraw from the race. Such a
scenario, in the event of former PM Kasyanov's increasingly likely
disqualification, would leave Putin's heir, First Deputy PM
Medvedev, without a constitutionally required opponent. Bogdanov
told us that he is running in order to cement his reputation as the
last democratic opposition leader standing, but his personal dislike
of Kasyanov (who allegedly backed out of a deal to buy DPR) and
willingness to accuse the former Prime Minister of corruption in the
petition gathering process makes him a handy foil. The CEC will
rule on both Bogdanov and Kasyanov's candidacy by January 26. End
Summary.

--------------------------------------------- -----
Candidate Voted Least Likely to Succeed
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) The 38-year old Andrey Bogdanov is an unlikely
presidential candidate, whose shoulder length curly mane, slightly
swarthy appearance, and infamy as Grand Master of the Freemason's
Grand Lodge of Russia overshadow his career as a "political
technologist," one-time adviser to United Russia, and longtime
associate of the Democratic Party of Russia. In a January 17
meeting at a large, tastefully furnished, but funereally quiet DPR
headquarters -- which happens to abut the ruling United Russia's
Moscow regional office -- Bogdanov dated his political activism back
to 1990, when he circulated leaflets in support of Boris Yeltsin.
Bogdanov took aim at the failure of rival democratic opposition
leaders to unite, as well as their predilection to treat political
parties as vehicles for their political vanity. Arguing that "no
other rightist party can boast of a leader like me," Bogdanov
stressed that he had come up through the ranks, reflecting DPR's
respect for the "succession" principle of growing its leadership
from the youth wing. The fact that he had never served as an
"A-level" Russian government official (in contrast to Yabloko's
Yavlinsky, SPS's Gaidar and Chubais, and former PM Kasyanov),
Bogdanov considered a plus in terms of his long-term political
prospects, since he did not bear responsibility for the reviled
1990's.

3. (SBU) Describing himself as a political realist, Bogdanov said
he did not expect Russia to have a democratic president within the
next ten years, given the continuing fight over the division and
re-division of state spoils among the elite; instead, DPR would play
by the rulebook, with his presidential bid a means of attracting
greater public attention to the party, at a time when traditional
opposition parties were on the verge of extinction. "All other
rightist parties have ceased to meet the democratic demands of the
people." Shrugging off DPR's last-place showing in the December
Duma elections (where it received an almost imperceptible .1 percent
of the vote), Bogdanov said his goal was to secure three percent in
the presidential race, which would help in writing-off the party's
seven million ruble debt for the television airtime it received
during the parliamentary elections (and, with its less than three
percent showing, must now reimburse). In order not to further
burden the party's coffers, Bogdanov decided to run as an
independent candidate. Bogdanov described the process of
collecting the requisite two million signatures to qualify as an
independent as easy, but side-stepped any discussion of the
mechanics. (Note: Neither we nor political analysts with whom we
spoke had seen any evidence of a petition collection drive, which
Kasyanov's aides and former SPS contender Boris Nemtsov had
described as particularly difficult given the extended Christmas-New
Year-Orthodox Christmas holiday period.) Bogdanov readily conceded
that few Russians were ready for a Grand Master as president, but
was forthright about his convictions and dispensed both DPR and
Freemason calling cards. He'll attend a Freemason convention in
Kentucky this February.

4. (SBU) Bogdanov did not hesitate to declare himself an opponent
of Putin (something official opposition parties such as Just Russia
and LDPR eschew), and stressed DPR's rejection of Russia's current
foreign policy course, with DPR advocating a European agenda and
Russian membership in the EU. Noting his one year of service as the
ruling party's head of public relations, Bogdanov said he was fired
by United Russia for introducing successful door-to-door membership
drives in Krasnoyarsk, rather than relying on administrative
resources to more predictably lock-in the collective votes of
factories, universities, and other state-influenced bodies.
Bogdanov avoided discussing his current ties to the Kremlin or
whether -- as critics charge -- he has an "understanding" over his
role in this election cycle. Bogdanov implied that DPR faced less
official opposition since it was not a "street" party and eschewed
revolutions of any color. The Russian populace had endured too much

MOSCOW 00000153 002 OF 002


hardship and upheaval, and none of Russia's revolutions had had
changed people's lives for the better. Ideologically, Bogdanov
described DPR as more conservative -- or neo-conservative -- in
social values than liberal. For example, while DPR members would
not condemn homosexuals, no party member would ever participate in
or condone gay parades.

-----------------------------------
A Spare to the Kremlin's Heir
-----------------------------------

5. (SBU) Political analysts, civil society activists, and
newspaper editors with whom we spoke dismiss Bogdanov out of hand as
a Kremlin project, alternately designed to "foil" the slight
prospects of former PM Kasyanov or serve as a far-sighted hedge
against the unlikely decision of both Communist Party leader
Zyuganov and LDPR's Zhirinovskiy to withdraw from contention. In
the event of Kasyanov's increasingly likely disqualification from
the race, this scenario would leave Medvedev unopposed, against a
constitutional requirement for two candidates. The
Kremlin-connected Center for Political Technology Deputy Director
Makarenko is among those who have speculated publicly that Bogdanov
fills the role played by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov
in 2004, describing him as a "purely technical figure - a safeguard
against any potential blackmail attempts by Zyuganov and
Zhirinovsky, who might threaten to invalidate the election by
withdrawing."

6. (SBU) Bogdanov made clear his personal dislike for Kasyanov,
which he attributed to the former Prime Minister's failed effort to
highjack DPR at the party convention as the vehicle for his
presidential campaign. Other well-placed political insiders argue
that Kasyanov walked back an agreement to purchase DPR's "brand"
from Bogdanov for two million usd, presumably after the imposition
of some unpalatable political conditions. Bogdanov has led the
charge in seeking Kasyanov's disqualification from the race,
submitting disks of signatures to the CEC that were downloaded from
public records available on the internet, and which he maintains
match portions of those signature lists submitted by the Kasyanov
campaign. The CEC has raised concerns that it has with Kasyanov's
petition, and Kasyanov petition gatherers face criminal charges in
two regions for filing false names. (The difficulty in gathering
signatures and the likelihood of paid party activists taking
short-cuts has provided the CEC with a flexible instrument for
weeding out both political parties and candidates on legal
grounds.)

------------
Comment
------------

7. (SBU) Suspicions are necessarily raised when a relative
political unknown with enormous political liabilities such as
Bogdanov remains a potential contender in this presidential race, at
a time when far better known and more electorally proven politicians
have been sidelined, de-registered, and pushed off of national
television. Bogdanov will be nothing more than a footnote to the
2008 presidential campaign, regardless of whether he is registered
as a candidate, but is testament to the cynical calculations that
have undergird every aspect of this electoral process.

BURNS

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