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Cablegate: For a Just Russia Fights for Relevance

VZCZCXRO0253
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #5300/01 3111232
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071232Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5096
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2514
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2836
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4666

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 005300

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM SOCI RS
SUBJECT: FOR A JUST RUSSIA FIGHTS FOR RELEVANCE

REF: A) MOSCOW 04422

B) 06 MOSCOW 12901
C) YEKAT 00087
D) MOSCOW 05153

MOSCOW 00005300 001.2 OF 003


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Summary
-------

1. (SBU) On the first anniversary of its creation, the political
party "For a Just Russia," (SR) finds itself recoiling from its
greatest challenge thus far: Putin's decision to head the party
list for United Russia (YR). In the weeks after Putin's surprise
announcement, SR sank in the polls while press reports indicated
an exodus from the party of major regional political leaders.
Russia's chattering classes began to speak of the party's
collapse and there were real doubts that SR would draw enough
support in the December 2007 Duma elections to pass the seven
percent threshold for entry into the Duma. Party leaders
maintain that recent poll data provides hope that Just Russia may
limp across the electoral finish line, particularly as popular
concern over inflation underscores SR's message of social
justice. End summary.

--------------------
Life After October 2
--------------------

2. (SBU) Putin's October 2 surprise announcement that he would
head the YR party list for the December 2 Duma elections hit SR
hardest. The party had presented itself as a supporter of Putin,
but an opponent of United Russia -- a position that became
untenable after October 2. Aleksey Timofeyev, an SR deputy in
the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, was so dismayed that he
called for the dissolution of SR. He thought it would be
impossible for SR to remain loyal to Putin and yet oppose the
party that Putin was leading into the election. Timofeyev said
he had joined SR because its leader, Sergey Mironov, had claimed
that Putin would head the party.

3. (SBU) SR suffered a drop in the polls in the aftermath of
Putin's announcement. Soon after October 2, the Foundation for
Public Opinion (FOM), the Levada Center, and VTsIOM indicated
that SR would have a difficult time meeting the seven percent
threshold necessary to enter the Duma (ref A). In their October
20-21 surveys, the three organizations independently placed SR at
four to five percent. These results indicated only YR and the
Communist Party (KPRF) would score enough votes to enter the
Duma.

4. (SBU) SR suffered cadre defections after Putin's announcement,
with the press reporting on defections by several highly placed
regional leaders including the mayor of Voronezh, the SR party
leader in Omsk and the party leader in Novosibirsk. On October
28, the one-year anniversary of the party's founding, 47 regional
groups calling themselves "Russian Pensioners" left SR to hold a
separate party conference. (Note: The Russian Pensioners Party
combined with two other parties to create SR. Its departure
could further cripple the party. End note.)

5. (U) Since Putin's decision, YR has seemingly gone out of its
way to snub SR. It did not invite SR representatives to
participate in a series of roundtables to be held on November 7,
the anniversary of the October Revolution, although the KPRF,
LDPR and Civic Force were included. The organizer of the
roundtables attempted to minimize this fact alleging that only
competitors of YR were invited.

---------------------------------
SR Less Than the Sum of Its Parts
---------------------------------

6. (SBU) Many of SR's problems are a result of its organizational
weaknesses. Aleksey Mukhin of the Center for Political
Information described SR to us on November 1 as a Frankenstein
party, the product of different political organizations
transplanted into a donor body. The party has struggled with
scandals and in-fighting since its beginning, particularly in the
regions (ref B). Putin's support of SR functioned as an
immunosuppressant that kept the different parts from rejecting
each other. The drug lost its affect when Putin unexpectedly
announced on October 2 that he would lead the candidate list for
United Russia.

7. (U) Data released September 18 by The Foundation for Public
Opinion (FOM) demonstrated spotty regional support for SR. In
Siberia support for SR has never exceeded four percent. Embassy
trips to Altay Kray and Irkutsk indicated well-organized parties

MOSCOW 00005300 002.2 OF 003


in some regions while in Tomsk, the SR seemed very weak. SR
enjoys considerable support in diverse regions such as St.
Petersburg and Stavropol, but has never become a real player in
the in Moscow Region.

8. (SBU) Mukhin believes that Putin's October 2 announcement was
a serious mistake for the Kremlin. By throwing his support
behind United Russia, Putin in effect neutralized SR as a loyal,
pro-Kremlin opposition party that could siphon votes from the
KPRF.

----------------------
Mironov Plays the Fool
----------------------

9. (SBU) Embassy contacts also blame serious missteps by SR
leader Mironov for the party's problems. A major blow to SR's
stature and supposed independence occurred in mid-October when
Kremlin pressure forced Sergey Shargunov from SR's national
troika. Shargunov is the young leader of the youth movement,
URA!, the SR's version of YR's Nashi or Molodaya Gvardiya. In
2002 and 2003 he had made statements critical of Putin.
According to Morozov, Sharagunov's past statements were not a
secret and clearly not an impediment to his inclusion in the

SIPDIS
national troika. However, in subsequent weeks, after the
statements came to light, there was considerable negative
reaction, and his name was removed from the national candidate
list. Shargunov has since left the party taking URA! with him.
Mukhin believed this misstep made Mironov look foolish.

10. (SBU) SR also must contend with the well-founded perception
that the Kremlin controls who can run on the party's ticket.
According to some sources, Yevgeniy Royzman, a current SR Duma
Deputy, was evidently excluded from the Sverdlovsk party list at
the behest of the Kremlin, specifically Vladislav Surkov (ref C).
Mukhin's contacts in the Kremlin reported it had had purged other
names from SR's lists.

-------------------------
The Party is Not Over
-------------------------

11. (SBU) However, there are indications that SR is starting to
recover from October 2. The latest polls suggest that SR is
slowly recovering from its initial drop in ratings. A VTsIOM
poll from late October indicated that four parties would make it
into the Duma in December: YR, KPRF, LDPR, and SR. SR has
regained some ground, but its standing is not clearly assured;
the poll predicts that SR will, at best, just scrape by the seven
percent threshold. Political commentators concede that popular
concern over inflation could enhance the electoral appeal of Just
Russia although the Communists are well-placed to capitalize on
this vote.

12. (SBU) SR leaders insist they have grounds to be cautiously
optimistic about their party's chances. Morozov told us on
October 31 that he was confident that things would turn out well,
but he was clearly concerned about the effects of Putin's
decision on his party. While not a death sentence, he said
Putin's decision retarded the party's development. Since October
2, SR leaders accept that the party's chief task is survival.
Morozov attempted to put the best face on the severe decline in
poll numbers, optimistically estimating that SR would win 15
percent of the vote December 2, with the lion's share coming from
voters who are currently undecided.

13. (SBU) Morozov and Mukhin agreed that most SR defections were
members who were angry because they did not make the regional
party lists. According to Morozov, the party wanted to make sure
that those who ran under the SR banner would be loyal to the
party in the Duma. However, potential candidates (and subsequent
defectors) such as Yevgeniy Royzman, Sergey Glasyev, and
Aleksandr Lebedev could not promise such loyalty. Lebedev, who
was originally tapped to head the Moscow list, could only promise
to "cooperate" with the party. To the dismay of some party
members, the SR leadership transplanted loyal party members from
the Moscow leadership to some regions (e.g., Sverdlovsk) in a
move to guarantee party loyalty in the Duma.

14. (SBU) Mukhin pointed out that most who left had not been
happy in the "Frankenstein party." As an example, he pointed to
Sverdlovsk where on August 9 the former head of the regional
Russian Pensioners Party (RPP) announced that he would abandon SR
for the KPRF (ref D). Mukhin said that other party members
(including Lebedev) who had political interests that did not
coincide with Mironov's would leave. However, he did not
anticipate a mass exodus. The rank-and-file remained loyal while
the media only reported on the more sensational examples of

MOSCOW 00005300 003.2 OF 003


defection.

-------
Comment
-------

15. (SBU) One year ago, SR started life as a Kremlin project that
fit well into what was perceived to be Putin's plans for an over-
determined multi-party system. As the social-democratic party of
the left, SR was purportedly designed to ease out the KPRF.
However, Putin's alliance with YR has called into question SR's
continued viability as a party. It remains to be seen if the
Kremlin has a continued interest in SR as a "partner" in a multi-
party pro-government coalition.

BURNS

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