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Cablegate: In Irkutsk National Politics Overshadow Local

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1. (SBU) A recent trip to Irkutsk oblast found a region not
immune to the ebb and flow of Russian national politics. While
the pro-Putin United Russia Party (YR) has a distinct advantage
over also-rans For a Just Russia (SR) and the Communist Party
(KPRF) in this region, the endemic corruption within the YR and
the failure of local leadership to deal with local problems could
provide an opening for expressions of opposing views come the
State Duma election on December 2. End Summary.

The Local Landscape

2. (SBU) In a trip to Irkutsk and Angarsk October 1-5, we found a
staunchly independent oblast that nonetheless was still dominated
by the United Russia (YR). Galina Solkina and Yelena Veselkova
of Teleinform, an Irkutsk-based news and information agency,
described regional politics as controlled from outside and free
of vigorous public debate. They noted that a free press does not
exist in Irkutsk oblast, and they found that no print or
broadcast media would criticize or contradict the current power
structure. The current governor, Aleksandr Tishanin, a Putin
appointee, exemplified the current political process. Tishanin
was not directly elected but rather selected by Putin from
outside Irkutsk Oblast. Solkina suggested that he was brought in
to control the independent-minded electorate.

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3. (SBU) During our meetings we often heard of the unique state
of politics in Siberia as if there existed a "wild east"
mentality. Solkina and Veselkova said that in previous
elections, United Russia did not receive as much support from the
local electorate as it did from the European oblasts. However,
in national polling data released September 18 by the Foundation
for Public Opinion (FOM), political leanings in Irkutsk Oblast
did not differ significantly from the national trends. The minor
differences, which fall within the margin of statistical error,
lead us to question the perception of a political culture
distinct from the rest of the country.

Politics in the Best Chicago Tradition

4. (SBU) Like the rest of Russia, Irkutsk has not been free of
corruption. Solkina told us that the local YR has become a haven
for corrupt politicians. The current mayor of Irkutsk, Vladimir
Yakubovskiy, second on the local YR party list, would be grateful
for a Duma seat for the immunity from prosecution it provides.
According to Solkina, after December, he either goes into the
Duma or prison. The local prosecutor's office has amassed a
substantial case against him for abuse of his office. Solkina
also suggested that most likely, his departure from the city
would be welcomed by the public as well because of his strangle
hold on the housing market. In Irkutsk, only construction firms
approved by Yakubovksiy can get land for housing development, and
of course those firms pay for such favorable treatment. This
tight, controlled market in new construction only adds to the
exceedingly high costs of housing in the oblast. (Note: Solkina
and Veselkova said that housing prices in Irkutsk were the fourth
highest in Russia. End note.)

5. (SBU) Solkina pointed out that two previous YR mayors from
Irkutsk Oblast are now serving time in prison because of their
criminal behavior. Viktor Doroshek, the mayor from Nizhniy
Ulimskiy Rayon, and Vasliy Saikov the mayor from Sludyanskiy
Rayon, were both arrested earlier this year for murder and
attempted murder. Solkina suggested that YR has become a haven
for the unscrupulous, noting that more than 70 mayors appeared on
the regional party lists for the December Duma elections.

6. (SBU) According to the regional leader of the Communist Party,
Sergey Levchenko, election fraud was the only reason for YR's
significant gains in previous elections.

7. (U) Recent press reports have demonstrated how vulnerable YR
could be in the oblast. According to national and local press
reports, on October 19, deputy governor Sergey Voronov was
arrested for embezzlement of public funds in the amount of RUR 42
million (about USD 1.6 million). YR expelled him from the party
on November 9. Earlier in October, the head of public roads in
Irkutsk Oblast, Viktor Bushuyev, was also arrested in connection
with the same crime.


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United Russia, Large and in Charge

8. (SBU) YR controls the oblast legislative assembly, the
governorship, and the mayor's office in almost all cities in the
oblast. The party list for the December 2 State Duma elections
will be led by the governor Aleksander Tishanin, current State
Duma deputy Vitaliy Shuba (elected from a single mandate
district), and Irkutsk mayor Vladimir Yakubovskiy. Our contacts
in the city believe the governor will not actually enter the
Duma. Putin appointed him to his post in September 2005, and his
position as governor is more lucrative than a Duma seat. Rather
he will function as the "locomotive" of the list, gathering votes
through name recognition. The fate of Yakubovskiy was still
uncertain. Although under investigation for corruption, he also
might find his job as mayor more financially rewarding. If
Yakubovskiy stayed, Governor Tishanin would likely want to push
him out to bring in his own man to this important job.

9. (SBU) In Angarsk, a city of 247,000 people about 40 minutes
drive from Irkutsk, YR kept a stronghold on the local levers of
power. (Note: Angarsk was the site of the July 21 attack on an
ecological camp protesting the uranium refinement facility
there.) We met with several high placed local elected officials
who proved both competent and devoted to YR. Andrey Kozlov, the
mayor of the Angarsk, described a paternalistic YR that takes
over where the people leave off. According to him, the fall of
the Soviet Union left few social structures to create leaders,
foster civic culture, and to function within a democracy. In
response YR, not the government or other institutions, would
foster the birth of such organizations that would lead to a
Western-style civic culture.

For A Just Russia Thinks It Too Has Prospects

10. (SBU) A meeting with Dmitriy Rasumov, chair of the regional
SR, was colored by Putin's recent decision to be the only name on
the national party list for United Russia. When we met with him,
Rasumov had not had time to process the meaning of this dramatic
and unexpected move and what it meant for SR as the other party
of Putin. He maintained his loyalty to the president although he
acknowledged that YR's share of the vote would naturally
increase. He originally expected that YR would garner 45 percent
of the local vote but after the announcement expected it to get
upwards of 60 percent. None of the gain would come at the
expense of SR. Speaking without the benefit of polling data, he
claimed that SR, as a left-wing party, would derive most of its
vote from the current undecideds. YR, as a right-wing party
would increase its vote at the expense of other parties.

11. (SBU) In explaining Putin's decision, Rasumov turned the
focus of discussion to stability, something Putin has striven for
during his presidency. In a resigned way, he almost agreed with
Putin's decision as the only serious way of guaranteeing the
continuation of Putin's policies. If Putin had chosen to throw
his support behind SR, the national political situation would
destabilize. Rasumov characterized the stability of Putin's
policies as the fulfillment of government obligations while
destabilization would mean default, inflation and unpaid social

12. (SBU) Rasumov described SR as the left-wing, pro-Putin option
that would appeal to the natural left leanings of the Russian
electorate. He characterized YR as the party of capitalists and
bureaucrats while SR fit into the typical European social-
democrat party model. He mentioned specifically the issues of
housing, pensions and education. He placed much blame for YR's
inadequacies at the feet of bureaucrats who hold sway in that
party. SR would combat the bureaucracy that permeates YR's plans
and programs. However, he was unable to clearly articulate why
United Russia was so much more popular than SR given that the two
parties back the same leader (Putin).

KPRF, the New Brand of Democracy

13. (SBU) The regional leader of the Communist Party in Irkutsk,
Sergey Levchenko, described a vibrant and democratic party
clearly focused on the economic development of the region. He
highlighted the democratic structure of the party and its social
concerns, two characteristics not shared by the other parties.
Levchenko said that the KPRF was evidently the only party to
include local candidates selected by the rank-and-file on party
lists. SR and YR both selected candidates from other regions for
inclusion on the lists, ostensibly to guarantee Duma seats to

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party loyalists. Also, KPRF would be the only party to guarantee
that all candidates on its list would serve in the Duma if
elected. According to Levchenko, YR's lists included several
"locomotives" who would attract votes but not ultimately serve
and several "parachutists" who appear on the local lists but have
in fact no connection to the oblast.

14. (SBU) Levchenko described a Communist Party platform focused
on drug abuse, use of natural resources, unemployment, and
housing. Official statistics on unemployment underestimated the
actual problem. To address the high cost of housing, YR's plans
focused on the availability of credit for purchasing a home.
Levchenko noted that this plan in effect would increase the
amount of money available to purchase housing but not increase
the housing itself. Levchenko dismissed the current
administration's efforts to fight ddrug abuse as incompetent or
completely ineffective.

Politics Should Be Local

15. (SBU) Solkina and Veselovka asserted that the oblast ought to
be wealthy given its oil resources in the north. However, the
allocation of contracts and licenses has been strictly controlled
by the central government. They also pointed out that the
construction companies building oil pipelines tend to bring in
workers from outside the oblast thus not contributing
significantly to the local economy. The heavy machinery used in
the construction of oil and gas pipelines destroys the local
roads which must be repaired by local governments.
Unfortunately, all taxes from oil and gas go to the federal
government. Thus the energy industries make significant demands
on the local governments yet do not contribute significantly to
the tax base.

16. (SBU) This complaint about oil companies' negative impact was
supported by Yelena Kovalenko, the mayor of Tayshet, a small town
in Western Irkutsk Oblast. According to the new plans for local
self-government recently put in place in Russia, Tayshet has
assumed responsibility for maintenance of the roads. However,
the laws that created such governing structures did not
necessarily provide the appropriate tax revenues.

17. (SBU) Irkutsk seems like the rest of Russia. Its support of
United Russia was strong and the party had a strong hold on the
levers or power. SR was struggling, and the Communists were able
to count on a strong but comparatively small base of support.
Corruption, a perennial issue, does not appear to hinder YR
although many contacts noted its significance in people's lives.


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