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Cablegate: Volgograd Mayor: Young, Pragmatic... And Communist (For

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1. (SBU) The 31 year-old mayor of Volgograd, an unexpected winner
in a special election held last May after his predecessor had been
imprisoned on corruption charges, downplayed to us his Communist
party affiliation. The mayor instead stressed his commitment to
fostering a pro-business climate and working with the range of
political parties. Despite the mayor's win in May and the Communist
(KPRF) party's historical strength in Volgograd, observers expect
United Russia easily to win a plurality in the region in the
December Duma election. Some grouse at United Russia's use of
institutional advantages, especially TV, which a Communist activist
told us would make the December elections "a farce." Others believe
a resounding win by United Russia in December could entice the mayor
to think about shifting parties. End Summary.

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An Unexpected Communist Win

2. (SBU) Roman Grebennikov made headlines May 20 when he
unexpectedly defeated the favored candidate from the pro-Kremlin
United Russia party to become mayor. Grebennikov received 32.5
percent of the vote -- ten points ahead of his rivals from United
Russia and A Just Russia. However, in a recent meeting with us in
Volgograd, Grebennikov downplayed his Communist party affiliation.
He attributed his victory to the personal record he established as
Speaker of the regional Duma -- a record which stressed honest
government and social justice. This had special resonance, he said,
after his predecessor, Yevgeniy Ishchenko, was arrested in 2006 on
corruption charges and removed from office.

3. (SBU) Grebennikov's United Russia party opponent came in third
(behind the A Just Russia candidate). United Russia leaders in the
region were quick to state, however, that they had no problem
working with Grebennikov. Grebennikov stressed to us his interest
in fostering a pro-business climate in Volgograd and in reaching out
to cooperate with all political parties. He noted that the day
before our meeting, he had appeared on TV with local business
leaders to underline his pro-business message. Grebennikov said
that his commitment to social programs required a healthy economy to
generate revenue.

United Russia in the Lead

4. (SBU) United Russia leaders in Volgograd told us they expected
to receive 40 percent of the region's vote in the December Duma
election. Stressing their links to Putin, they underlined that
United Russia had positioned itself as the party that can deliver.
They also stressed outreach to younger voters. United Russia
leaders told us that they were personally active in working with and
training both the Young Guards and Nashi youth movements. United
Russia leaders had no negative words for the mayor. Rather, they
said that they did not see any fundamental differences between his
program and that of United Russia. United Russia leaders and the
mayor were the only ones with whom we spoke in Volgograd who
stressed the importance of the business climate and the need to
nurture small and medium enterprises.

A Just Russia

5. (SBU) A Just Russia (SR) leaders told us they expect 25 percent
of the vote in the December Duma election. This was well beyond the
estimates for SR we heard from other political experts in Volgograd.
SR leaders also stressed to us their connection to the Putin
legacy, emphasizing Putin's ties to SR national leader Mironov.
They also stressed the party's commitment to a significant expansion
of social services. While endorsing the Kremlin's national projects
in health, education, housing and agriculture, SR leaders
differentiated themselves from United Russia by advocating using
Russia's large financial reserves now to significantly pump up the
level of social spending. They criticized Finance Minister Kudrin
for being a fiscal tightwad, and called for his ouster.

Communist Party

6. (SBU) Volgograd has been called the buckle of Russia's Red Belt.
The Communist Party continues to draw on a large store of legitimacy
dating from the USSR's victory at Stalingrad. Party leaders
stressed to us that what distinguishes the KPRF most from other
parties is its organizational depth. They regard the KPRF as the
only real national political party in Russia. United Russia, by

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contrast, is the party of the officialdom and opportunists, they

7. (SBU) Communist activists did not echo the mayor's enthusiasm for
fostering an attractive business climate (in fact, they hardly
mentioned the mayor at all). They stressed instead the need for
ever greater level of social benefits, and lamented the collapse of
the USSR's social safety net. They criticized oligarchs, past and
present, and condemned United Russia's use of administrative
resources, particularly TV. Communist activists told us they
expected the KPRF to get about 20-25 percent of the vote in
Volgograd in December. One regional leader said the party could get
40 percent if it had equal access to the media. Absent that, KPRF
leaders agreed that United Russia would likely get 40 percent of the
vote. KPRF activists dismissed the challenge posed to it from A
Just Russia, saying that SR had yet to demonstrate organizational


8. (SBU) The Volgograd region LDPR leader was alone in predicting
that Zhirinovskiy's LDPR had a shot at second place in the region in
December. He underlined that LDPR's appeal in Volgograd is
populist, emphasizing the need for more social spending for
pensioners and veterans. LDPR is the only party in Volgograd that
stresses foreign policy. The regional leader told us that a major
applause line for the party is the need for Russia to stand up for
itself in the world. He said this was directed more at places like
Georgia than the U.S.

Other Activities

9. (SBU) We also met with two dozen exchange alumni and, separately,
with NGO representatives. Regarding the political climate, most of
them said that the Volgograd voters would remain complacent as long
as economic conditions continue to improve. All expected Putin and
the Kremlin to successfully orchestrate the Duma and Presidential
elections to assure continuity. While concerned about centralizing
trends under Putin, most were optimistic that the political system
would open up again in the medium term.

Mayor's Future

10. (SBU) The Director of the Institute for Economic and Social
research in Volgograd commented to us that if the mayor wants to
advance politically, he will likely have to leave the Communist
Party and join United Russia. Volgograd region Governor Maksiota
has been in power since 1996, the Director noted, and has "correct
but not close" relations with the Kremlin. If Grebennikov continues
to stress pragmatism and reaches out to United Russia, he might be
in line to replace Maksiota as governor in a few years.


11. (SBU) Despite the controls of managed democracy, Grebennikov's
election demonstrates that there can still be unexpected results.
However, given his pragmatism and ambition, Grebennikov poses no
threat to the powers that be.


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