Cablegate: Russian Opposition Faces More Fracture

DE RUEHMO #3399/01 1921250
R 111250Z JUL 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003399



E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/07/2017

1. (C) Summary: Other Russia's second annual conference was

1. (C) Summary: Other Russia's second annual conference was notable more for its non-participants and divisions than for the results it produced. Following on the heels of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's decision to leave the coalition, several leading opposition figures chose not to participate. Although Other Russia delegates adopted a political platform and agreed to select an opposition presidential candidate in October, political commentators reacted skeptically to Other Russia's call for fielding candidates in the December Duma elections. The weekend gathering drew the usual Kremlin-backed protestors. A year after its formation, Other Russia's "big tent" has shrunk. While the coalition remains united against Putin, its inability to coalesce around a positive political agenda and the dominance of National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov has left it more marginalized. End Summary.
2. (U) The two-day Other Russia conference, held in Moscow July 7-8, was intended as a show of unity among opposition parties, groups and movements and designed to build on events of the past year, including the recent "successful" protest marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It featured discussion of the coalition's platform and procedures for selecting a unity presidential candidate through a primary process this fall. Participants included coalition leader Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov, founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party. Poloff, who attended the conference, was among three dozen participants in attendance on day one, which focused on the content of the platform and procedures for selecting the unity candidate. Day two of the conference, which focused on the work of the past year and strategies for victory, included the participation of regional delegates, increasing the size of the conference by a couple hundred.
3. (C) Instead of highlighting Other Russia's unity, the conference was notable for its no-shows. Four days prior to the conference, former Prime Minister Kasyanov formally split from Other Russia, insisting (in an implicit swipe at former Central Bank Governor Grashchenko) that "only responsible political organizations should name presidential candidates." Moscow Helsinki Group's Lyudmilla Alekseyeva, INDEM's Georgiy Satarov, and All-Russian Civil Congress leader Alexander Auzan, who had been closely linked to Other Russia, also did not participate in the conference. They attributed their no-show to the split between Kasparov and Kasyanov, as well as the inability of Other Russia to produce a united opposition. Public statements by Alekseyeva and Satarov left their future involvement with Other Russia unclear. Likewise, independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov continued his on-again, off-again relationship with Other Russia, boycotting the conference amid rumors he is seeking a place on SPS' party list. In public statements, he objected to taking part in a coalition that included nationalists and the radical left.
4. (C) According to former Prime Minister Kasyanov's advisor, Oleg Buklemishev, Kasyanov has completely parted from Kasparov and the two are not in contact. While Ekho Moskviy Editor Aleksey Venediktov attributed Kasyanov's departure from Other Russia to his fear of precipitating corruption charges that go beyond the recent investigation into the privatization of a dacha, Buklemishev insisted it was solely due to Kasyanov's frustration with Kasparov's "unrealistic" electoral game plan and refusal to unite around a presidential candidate now. As far as Kasyanov is concerned, Other Russia "no longer exists." However, Buklemishev did not rule out the possibility of a civil society brokered compromise and rebirth of an opposition coalition.
5. (U) Other Russia continued to face harassment by pro-Kremlin groups. Political theater was on full display over the course of the conference. Conference participants on day-one faced members of the pro-Kremlin youth groups "Young Guard" and "Young Russia" who picketed in front of the Holiday Inn where the conference was held. The protestors shouted that the coalition was funded by Boris Berezovsky. At the end of day-one about 50 homeless men and women were bused to the conference site in a mocking show of support for Other MOSCOW 00003399 002 OF 002 Russia. Conference participants on the second day were met by more Pro-Kremlin demonstrators whose shouts that Other Russia was dead with Kasyanov's departure were accompanied by an orchestra playing funeral dirges.
6. (U) During the conference, Other Russia adopted its political platform, and agreed to select a unity opposition presidential candidate in October. The 10-point platform contained non-controversial items that address those issues on which members of the coalition agree, such as limiting the president's constitutional powers, direct elections of governors and Federation Council members, and prohibiting control of mass media by the government or big business. The points also included more radical economic planks such as revising the privatization programs of the 1990s, providing compensation to those who lost savings and investments during the 1990s, and investing energy export revenues in pensions, while also supporting non-controversial calls for an increase in the birth rate and investment in research and technology. The platform made a pitch for Russia to lead a new union of post-Soviet states to address their common interests. Calls to include points directly addressing such issues as corruption, national security and military reform went unheeded as Kasparov urged members to keep points of conflict out of the platform and focus on points of agreement.
7. (U) For the first time, Other Russia leaders discussed the possibility of fielding candidates for the December Duma elections, in defiance of the group's unregistered status as a political party. Limonov, whose National Bolsheviks have been banned as a political party since the Yeltsin administration for its extremist ideology, urged Other Russia participants to participate in the elections as a tactic to promote conflict with the authorities and to illustrate the limits to the political space in Putin's Russia.
8. (C) Mainstream political observers have reacted to the Other Russia conference with predictions of its imminent demise, emphasizing the limits of Kasparov's leadership and the difficulty of maintaining cohesion among the disparate political participants. Many have highlighted the growing role of Limonov, whose self-styled Trotskyist mien and popularity among youthful radicals alienates the Russian mainstream and whose calls for "red" politics fall flat among a populace largely focused on political stability and economic advancement. Venediktov, noted that Kasparov was attempting to create a "protest generation," modeled on 1960s movements in the US and France, which would shift the focus away from Limonov's National Bolsheviks. However, he agreed that the thinning Other Russia ranks deepened the perception that the opposition movement was isolated on the political fringes.
9. (C) The absence of many key opposition figures in the conference reveals the weakness of Other Russia's big tent approach. While the coalition was united by its opposition to Putin and the actions of the Kremlin, its members have been unable to coalesce around a positive vision for the future and a process for moving forward. This ideological and strategic incompatibility and the fact that most members do not conform with the views of Limonov, a key member of the coalition, will make it easier for the Kremlin to paint Other Russia in extremist tones. While Other Russia maintains the ability to launch street protests and to provoke GOR reaction and overreaction, it has not developed into a vehicle to challenge Russians' support for Putin. BURNS

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