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Cablegate: Kazakhstan's Duvanov: "You're Losing the Information War

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DE RUEHTA #2545/01 3590246
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O 240246Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4207
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0970
RUCNCLS/SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
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RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2111

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ASTANA 002545

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR R, SCA/CEN, EUR/ACE, EUR/RUS, IIP, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PROP SOCI KDEM RS KZ
SUBJECT: KAZAKHSTAN'S DUVANOV: "YOU'RE LOSING THE INFORMATION WAR
WITH RUSSIA"

REF: A) ASTANA 2249
B) ASTANA 2469

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: Independent journalist Sergei Duvanov judges:

-- the United States is losing the information war with Russia in
Kazakhstan because we are doing little effective to provide an
alternative to Russia's massive domination of the information space
in Central Asia;

-- RFE/RL has little, if any, influence;

-- the ideal would be a non-U.S.-government source like a CNN or BBC
Russian-language service, or a major Soros-funded effort; and

-- many U.S. "democracy grants" go to recipients with little
influence.

Duvanov has his own self-interest, but his analysis of the United
States missing in action in providing Russian-language information
in Central Asia is wholly accurate. While we might quibble with
some of his detailed recommendations, for our own national interests
we would do well to pay attention to his general views. END
SUMMARY.

RUSSIA DOMINATES THE MASS MEDIA

3. (SBU) The Ambassador met December 19 in Almaty with Sergei
Duvanov, a leading independent opposition journalist, to discuss the
state of mass media in Kazakhstan. Duvanov judged the Internet was
not yet widespread enough to be a serious source of information in
Kazakhstan, but its influence has grown significantly in the past
two years, a trend he expects to continue. With the Internet's
reach still low, Russian television remains the dominant source of
information for Kazakhstanis. Kazakh state television has very
little influence in the information sphere, and in Duvanov's
estimation, Russian-language media dominate 90% of Kazakhstan's
television market and control the most popular Internet news sites.
Of the local sites, Duvanov named www.kub.info, Eurasia.org.ru, and
zonakz.net as the most popular, but asserted that none was free of
its own political spin.

LOSING THE INFORMATON WAR

4. (SBU) Duvanov does not stake much on Radio Liberty's influence
in Kazakhstan -- it simply cannot compete with the Russian media in
popularity. "There is no counterweight to the false information
coming from Russia," said Duvanov, giving the example of how the
majority of Kazakhstanis believe the claims of some Russian channels
that the United States took over Iraq for oil. "The information war
between the United States and Russia has begun again, and the United
States is losing," he stressed. (NOTE: Similar arguments that lack
of alternative media sources doomed Kazakhstan to the "information
periphery" were made at the recent media conference hosted by
Kazakhstan's Press Club. See ref. B.)

5. (SBU) Duvanov outlined several ways in which the United States
could attempt to level the media playing field. One would be to
create something similar to the Voice of America for Central Asia.
(COMMENT: The head of opposition party Azat, Bulat Abilov, made the
same suggestions during his November meeting with the Ambassador
(reftel A). Many who remember the Soviet period fondly recall VOA
in Russian for its high-quality entertainment and objective
international news. END COMMENT.) Another would be to invest in a
satellite television channel that would provide an alternative to
the existing Russian channels. (NOTE: Duvanov said "no one
watches" the U.S.-funded InterNews satellite TV effort because it is
boring. END NOTE.) A third would be to create Internet sites that
would provide objective political coverage and also include
entertainment. Duvanov noted that an official U.S. government site
might be limited in its ability to provide fully objective
information and suggested it would be better to distance the site
from the government to allow "more room to maneuver." For any major
Russian-language media effort, Duvanov suggested Soros or similar
funding. He agreed CNN-Russian would be effective and important in

ASTANA 00002545 002 OF 002


providing alternate sources of information on the West. The
EuroNews Russian-language channel is currently the best source of
independent news in Kazakhstan, said Duvanov, and is widely watched
by the intelligentsia who can afford to subscribe to it. He added
BBC in Russian could be the ideal counterbalance to Russian media.

"YOUR DEMOCRACY GRANTS DON'T WORK"

6. (SBU) Duvanov judged that many U.S. "democracy grants are not
working," commenting that a number of recipients rely 90% on the
U.S. grants to live but have little to show for it. He suggested
the U.S. government could more effectively use its grant money to
support the development of the information sector in Kazakhstan. He
suggested the following activities: build an independent mass
media, develop a Central Asia satellite channel or Internet site in
the Russian language, support regional independent newspapers
(Duvanov commented regional papers outside Almaty and Astana have a
difficulty finding support, apart from special-interest sources),
fund "democracy schools" where students and young people can listen
to lectures by prominent public figures and politicians, and support
political discussion clubs.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: Duvanov is somewhat of a controversial figure in
Kazakhstan, in large part because of a sordid court case against him
about six years ago in which he was set up and entrapped; but he is
fully in the mainstream of civil society activists who understand
the fundamentals of democracy. His analysis of the United States
missing in action in providing Russian-language information in
Central Asia is wholly accurate. While we might quibble with some
of his detailed recommendations - especially those that retrograde
forces in Kazakhstan could easily counter - for our own national
interests we would do well to pay attention to his general views.
END COMMENT.

HOAGLAND

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