Cablegate: Russia: Staffdel Anand Explores Political Situation

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1. (U) A four-person staff delegation from the House Committee on
Foreign Affairs visited Moscow August 25-29 to explore political
developments in the run-up to parliamentary elections in December
and the presidential election next year. During their visit they met
with a range of Russian officials, NGOs, political opposition
leaders and a member of the media. They discussed prospects for
opposition parties in the Duma elections, the work of NGOs, and
bilateral issues. In a meeting with a member of the Duma, they also
discussed the Duma-House exchange and the next committee meeting in
Moscow. End summary.


2. (U) Staffdel Anand visited Moscow August 25-29 as part of a
multi-country trip to Central Asia, Russia and Georgia. The
delegation was comprised of professional staff of the House
Committee on Foreign Affairs and included Mr. Manpreet Singh Anand
(majority), Mr. Gene Gurevich (minority), Ms. Melissa Adamson
(majority) and Dr. Amanda Sloat (majority), who led the Russia
portion of their trip.

Prospects for the Duma elections

3. (SBU) In meetings with leaders of two opposition political
parties - Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS) - the staffdel
heard about the difficulties opposition parties will have in meeting
the seven percent threshold to enter the Duma. Representatives of
both parties commented on discussions that have taken place about
merging their parties. Despite the fact that joining forces would
improve prospects for representation in the Duma, the two parties
have been unable to reach agreement. Now, under the law, it is too
late to create a new party and coalitions are illegal.

4. (SBU) SPS Chairman Nikita Belykh believed that if SPS and Yabloko
combined lists, the merged party would have little problem achieving
seven percent. Belykh said different ideas and ideologies prevented
an SPS-Yabloko merger. Sergey Ivanenko, Deputy Chair of Yabloko,
attributed the stalemate to a lack of agreement over the "brand" of
the merged party. Ivanenko went on to say that "creating something
new in Russia right now is risky," citing the Republican Party of
Russia as an example. (Recently, the Republican Party was denied
registration leaving its leader, Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov,
without a party list to run on.)

5. (SBU) Opposition party officials as well as NGOs complained about
lack of access to the central media. While there is still some
opportunity for independent points of view to be expressed in some
newspapers, TV access is limited, they said. "The problem in Russia
is that you need TV in order to promote a leader," noted Ivanenko.
Radio station "Ekho Moskvy" Editor Aleksey Venediktov commented that
although his radio station continues to operate freely, the trend in
Russia is toward "controlled information space."

6. (SBU) Aleksey Adrov, Chief of Staff at the Central Election
Commission, told the staffdel that there have been no complaints
about media access. With regard to the last Duma election "no
irregularities come to mind," he stated. Adrov expected 10-15
parties to take part in the Duma elections. In answer to a question
about the recent increase in the threshold needed to gain seats in
the Duma from five percent to seven percent, he said that on a
practical level the increase will not make a difference, as
"opposition parties usually get three percent or nine percent."
Adrov noted that all participating parties would be able to field
election observers, and that he expected the OSCE's Office of
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to send long and
short-term observers, as well.

NGOs Struggle under New NGO Law

7. (SBU) Every NGO that the staffdel met with complained about the
staff time required to comply with all the reporting requirements
mandated by the 2006 NGO law. Rose Gottemoeller, director of the
Carnegie Moscow Center, added that in addition to the burdensome
requirements, NGOs are now less willing to take risks. While all the
NGOs the staffdel met with, including the National Democratic
Institute, the International Republican Institute, Memorial, and
Transparency International reported that they continued to work
unhindered, they were well aware that the complex law meant that
they could potentially be accused of being in noncompliance at any

8. (SBU) On a positive note, Gottemoeller said there is excitement

MOSCOW 00004345 002.2 OF 002

surrounding the upcoming meeting of the unofficial Carnegie-GOR
Ombudsman democracy and human rights working group scheduled to
convene in Washington in September. She told the delegation that
participants in the working group are interested in having meetings
on Capitol Hill.

9. (SBU) Deputy Ombudsman Georgiy Kunadze told the staffdel that his
office handles about 3,000 cases a year. The majority are "routine"
complaints on economic and social rights. The Ombudsman's annual
report was "not very different" from the State Department human
rights report. (Note: in fact, the Ombudsman's annual report focuses
more heavily on social and economic rights, and generally reports
violations that have been brought to its attention, instead of
actively seeking information on human rights problems.) He told the
delegation that the biggest human rights problem in Russia today is
"bureaucratic indifference and neglect."

The Bilateral Relationship

10. (SBU) The delegation met with Duma Deputy Aleksey Likhachev, a
member of the United Russia faction and deputy chairman of the
Committee on Political Economics, Entrepreneurship and Tourism.
Likhachev visited Washington in June as part of the Duma-House
exchange. He told the delegation he would like to see economics
placed ahead of politics in the relationship between the U.S. and
Russia. He invited the delegation to observe the December Duma
elections in his home district of Nizhny Novgorod. He said efforts
are needed to bring the current period in our relationship, which he
described as "mutual criticism" to an end. A "cooling period" is
needed, he said.

11. (SBU) In a meeting with Oleg Burmistrov, Deputy Director of
North American Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, many
issues were discussed, most notably CFE and missile defense.
Burmistrov stated that these two areas are the only ones where
problems exist in our relationship. In other areas there is
cooperation, he told the delegation. He restated the Russian
position on CFE, missile defense, and discussed the recent
overflights in Georgia.

12. (SBU) Several interlocutors raised Jackson-Vanik as a continued
sticking point in the relationship. Ekho Moskvy's Venediktov noted
that the elite in Russia did not understand why the amendment is
still in place. He commented that while the amendment has no
practical effect, it is a symbol. "It is an artificial irritant
which annoys people who make decisions. This small barrier creates a
huge psychological barrier," he said.

13. (U) Staffdel Anand cleared this cable.

© Scoop Media

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