Cablegate: Bryansk: Case Study of a Regional Party of Power

DE RUEHMO #2448/01 3190934
R 150934Z NOV 06




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Once a keystone of post-Soviet Communist control,
the political scene in Bryansk region is now dominated by United
Russia (YR). YR has attracted the youth, business, and elite vote -
votes that used to be divided between the Communist Party and
liberal parties like the Union of Right Forces (SPS). The Communist
Party is hanging on as the opposition, but its electorate is growing
old and losing faith in the party. SPS is increasingly marginalized
and demoralized. End Summary

YR Consolidates Control Quickly Under Putin

2. (U) From 2000-2004, YR made a concerted effort to consolidate
control in Bryansk. The region was one of only five in which Putin
lost in the 2000 elections (it voted for Communist Gennadiy
Zyuganov). Therefore, YR pulled out all the stops to consolidate
control in the 2003 State Duma elections and the 2004 presidential
and gubernatorial contest. As a result, Putin won the region by a
considerable margin in 2004 and Nikolay Denin was elected State Duma
deputy from the Bryansk single mandate district in 2003 and then
governor of Bryansk region in December 2004.

3. (SBU) The 2004 gubernatorial election was one of the most
infamous in Russia in its use of smear tactics and other
manipulations of the system -- and YR administrative resources. A
local court struck Denin's popular Communist opponent Yuriy Lodkin
from the ballot in November 2004 in response to allegations that he
violated election laws. Lodkin's supporters charged that the courts
were being manipulated to pave the way for Denin. In the first
round of elections, "against all" came in second with 21 percent,
behind Denin with 43 percent, in a clear protest against Lodkin's
exclusion from the ballot. In the second round, Denin got 78
percent of the vote compared with 10 percent for third place SPS
candidate Yevgeniy Zelenko. "Against all" got 10.6 percent.

4. (SBU) In a November 1 meeting, Deputy Director of the Bryansk
Regional Human Rights Association Sergey Kurdenko told us that Denin
has been involved in other controversies. There have been
allegations that he funnels government funds to his Snezhka chicken
processing factory. Although he was involved in a car accident in
which he ran over two women (one of whom died), the regional
prosecutor general did not pursue the case. Denin does not enjoy a
great deal of popular support in the region, but he has strong ties
to the Kremlin, the State Duma, and the YR Central Committee.
Individual YR regional deputies are more popular, mainly because
they are young businesspeople who lobby for their local social and
business interests.

YR Dominates All Branches of Power

5. (U) YR dominates all branches of executive and legislative power
in the Bryansk region. The regional governor and mayor of Bryansk
belong to YR. The party has majorities in both the regional Duma
and Bryansk City Council. In contrast, until 2004 KPRF was the
dominant force in the Duma. Now it has 12 seats in the 60-seat
regional assembly, to YR's 35. Kurdenko noted that there were no
forces in the region able to credibly oppose YR. In his view, YR is
comparable to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but even
stronger.6. (U) YR clearly controls the legislative process in the
regional Duma. The key issues are implementing national projects
and getting Moscow to allocate more funds to the region.
Maintaining federal support for Chernobyl survivor benefits and
environmental programs also remains important. According to
Communist Deputy Stepan Panasov, regional Duma deputies from all
parties resent that the national budget is running at a record-high
surplus, while the regional budget is deeply in the red.

YR Also Dominates the Media

7. (U) In 2005, Governor Denin named Anatoliy Terebunov acting
deputy governor for media and regional affairs. Terebunov was
previously the editor of the opposition paper "Bryanskiy
Perekrestok." Soon after Terebunov's appointment, editors of the
region's six state-supported newspapers were asked to submit their
resignations. Terebunov and Denin did not bother to hide the
political motives behind their pressure on the editors, saying in
public that "the administration intends to cauterize them no matter
how much they moan." Local RTR television journalist Andrey
Anufrikov told us that "Bryanskiy Perekrostok" is now the "voice" of
the administration, and that other media outlets do not stray far
from the administration's line.

8. (U) Four years ago, the All-Russian Television and Radio Company

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(VGTRK) bought out all local TV and radio companies and 90 percent
of the staff was fired. Now VGTRK has a virtual monopoly on TV and
radio in Bryansk. The head of VGTRK in Bryansk belongs to YR and
cooperates with Denin. Two private companies - Ren TV and TV Channel
60 - are represented in Bryansk, but Ren TV's audience is one-tenth
of VTGRK's and the TV Channel 60 audience share is even smaller.

United Russia Attracting Youth Vote

9. (SBU) According to Vladimir Proyanenkov, Head of the Bryansk YR
Executive Committee, YR has 35 branches in all 28 districts of
Bryansk Oblast and about 8,500 members. Young people make up about
thirty percent of the party. YR's electorate comes from both cities
and rural districts, but its general level of education is higher
than the region's average. YR has infiltrated former Communist
strongholds in the rural districts by buying up businesses and
taking over management of public institutions, and by encouraging
employees to vote for YR in elections, according to our contacts.

10. (SBU) In a meeting with Emboffs, Proyanenkov mentioned that the
local YR branch criticized the YR's new party program for lack of
concrete goals and figures, and for not paying enough attention to
professional education, demographic issues, and health care.
Proyanenkov said that the YR faction closely cooperates with Rodina,
SPS, and Social Democratic factions. The KPRF, he said, was the
only real opposition in the regional Duma. Proyanenkov does not
believe that the newly formed "For A Just Russia" party will
threaten YR's dominance.

Previously Strong KPRF Losing Ground

11. (SBU) YR is gradually squeezing the KPRF's electorate, wooing
many of its followers with promises of a better future and alleging
that KPRF mismanagement during the 1990s is the source of the
region's current economic problems. In a November 1 meeting,
Bryansk KPRF Executive Committee and KPRF regional Duma faction
member Stepan Panasov told Emboffs there were 3,300 KPRF members in
the region. The party's working class base was shrinking and its
electorate now mainly comprised middle-aged members of the
"intelligentsia" and veterans. He said young people are not joining
the KPRF -- only five percent of the region's youth supports the
party. The allegiance of the rural population has shifted to the
local authorities, who are generally YR members.

SPS Struggling in Bryansk

12. (SBU) "Democratic" parties pose little threat to YR in the
region, primarily due to leadership issues at the national level.
Gennadiy Novikov, Executive Director of SPS Bryansk regional branch,
told Emboffs that the Bryansk SPS branch has only 694 members, and
funding difficulties restrict it to two employees and a one-room
office. Per Novikov, the SPS central office pays little attention
to regional branch needs. Novikov termed SPS Head Nikita Belykh a
poor leader, and doubted that Belykh would be successful in the
December Perm legislative by-elections. (Belykh is from Perm and is
heading the SPS ticket there.)

13. (SBU) Novikov said the SPS electorate in Bryansk region included
teachers, doctors, and students, although the latter were less
likely to vote. With money the chief motivating factor for many of
the region's youth, YR's complement of young businesspeople and aura
of success make it a magnet for the region's young. Novikov
contended that local YR deputies are the same faces and the same
"thieves" who used to be KPRF deputies. He termed the Russian Party
of Life a compliant party and believed that the new "For A Just
Russia" party had little to offer.


14. (SBU) United Russia has eclipsed the Communist party and
established itself as the clear party of power in Bryansk - for now.
As United Russia's rapid replacement of the Communist Party in a
former red stronghold indicates, political fortunes can change
quickly, however. While SPS and other established parties have
failed to make inroads, the newly-formed "For AJust Russia" party
may be in a better position to pose a challenge to YR in the region,
if Kremlin support for it is backed by administrative resources.
While Governor Denin has been a controversial figure, he continues
to enjoy the Kremlin's favor and his position --for now-- appears

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