Cablegate: Transparency International On Medvedev's Legitimacy

DE RUEHMO #0553/01 0591458
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1. (SBU) Summary: Dismissing the March 2 presidential elections as
preordained, Transparency International Director Yelena Panfilova
nonetheless argued that the process accurately reflected Russia's
political maturity and conferred the necessary legitimacy on First
Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev. Panfilova painted a bleak picture
of Russian civil society, hobbled by ambitions and in-fighting,
which contributed to Russia's democratic immaturity. Placing 50/50
odds on Medvedev's performance as a liberal, Panfilova argued that
anti-corruption efforts could be an early litmus test of the new
president. End Summary

Presidential Elections Predetermined, but Prettier
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) In a February 27 meeting, Transparency International
Director Yelena Panfilova previewed her organization's press
conference today, in which TI would highlight the loopholes in
Russian legislation that facilitate the legal manipulation of
elections. Panfilova said the "beauty" of the process was that
there were very few machinations required by the Kremlin during the
presidential campaign period, since the electoral legislation
remained weighted in favor of the ruling party's candidate and the
race had been shaped months before the actual polling. One of the
most significant lacunae, she argued, was the provision allowing
senior officials to remain in office while campaigning, which
translated into their domination of the media and administrative

3. (SBU) Technically, Panfilova predicted an "absolutely normal"
presidential election on March 2, which would look legitimate and be
seen as legitimate by the Russian electorate. She predicted up to
68 percent voter turnout, and said there would be less of the
obvious voter intimidation or excesses that marked the December 2,
2007 Duma elections, with the caveat being in the North Caucasus
republics. "The authorities learned from the parliamentary
campaigns -- it was too obvious." Panfilova argued the OSCE was
right to boycott the elections: "how do you report on a campaign
that is not a campaign?"

Medvedev Passes Legitimacy Test

4. (SBU) Despite the choreography, Panfilova concluded that Medvedev
would enjoy real legitimacy, conferred in a process that accurately
reflected Russia's level of political maturity. Imagine Russia as a
17-year old teenager, she urged, who has grown bigger and taller
(thanks to oil and gas wealth), but still wants to be liked by
everyone, and has a hard time understanding why others get angry
when its picks on the little kids (e.g. Estonia, Georgia) in the
schoolyard. While a couple of thousand Russians followed TI's work
closely, contributed to its campaigns, and embraced its principles,
she noted that 140 million Russians remain largely indifferent. For
the overwhelming majority of Russians, Panfilova argued, the
presidential campaign was exactly what they wanted: the presentation
of an acceptable replacement for Putin, packaged with the promise of
stability. Russian society would evolve over time, she maintained,
but it made no sense to measure it against the standards of a mature

Civil Society Self-Defeating

5. (SBU) Panfilova argued that Medvedev's managed election should be
viewed in the broader context of Russian civil society, which she
judged was "disappointing" and as immature as Russia's electoral
politics. When she helped found the All Russian Civic Congress in
2004, Panfilova said that she could not have predicted its demise in
2008 on the basis of political jealousy and in-fighting -- with
Moscow Helsinki Group Director Lyudmila Alekseeva and Indem
President Georgiy Satarov resigning over the continued presence of
Other Russia's Garry Kasparov. Rather than fulfilling its mandate
of providing alternatives to Putinism, the forum had degenerated
into competing camps of NGO elites, more interested in attracting
international grants and Russian media attention than in building
grass-roots initiatives. "We did this to ourselves -- it wasn't the
result of the security services or the Kremlin."

6. (SBU) There wasn't enough professionalism among NGO activists,
Panfilova argued, with fewer members ready to undertake the hard
work of mobilizing citizens at the grassroots, particularly around
unglamorous but necessary themes, such as parking, housing, and
municipal inattention. It's easy to go to conferences or "to the
barricades," Panfilova argued, but it didn't help Russian citizens
who are marginalized. The creation of yet another NGO front
organization, as promised by Alekseeva and Saratov, would be greeted
cynically, Panfilova argued, as just another platform for outsized
egos and a launching pad for acquiring international grants.
Panfilova said she planned to go public with her critique of civil
society, if only to underscore to a broader audience that Russia's
democratic growing pains could not solely be laid at the
government's door.

MOSCOW 00000553 002 OF 002

Anti-Corruption as Liberal Litmus Test

7. (SBU) Panfilova gave 50/50 odds on whether Medvedev would take
Russia in a fundamentally more liberal direction, commenting that it
was hard to predict "what will happen in the mind of a 42-year old
man," but noted that anti-corruption could become a key litmus test.
Medvedev could prove that he is a "real political leader" in the
field of fighting corruption, playing off of widespread discontent
over the levels of corruption and Putin's own admonishment that more
needs to be done. Nobody needs more conferences, she noted, but
rather a "war" should be declared. Panfilova said that she would
look to see whether Medvedev backed up his campaign rhetoric on rule
of law with real efforts to attack corruption. A possible first
test would be the quality and scope of the implementing legislation
for Russia's adoption of Council of Europe and UN conventions
against corruption, which has been under review for the last year.
Making anti-corruption efforts systematic and permanent would
require Medvedev to break ranks with some in the political
establishment and be a test of political self-confidence. As to
Medvedev's own vulnerability, Panfilova noted only that "everyone
with a career in the public sector in the 1990's has a skeleton in
the closet," but that Medvedev's transgressions appeared minor.


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