Cablegate: Russian Leadership Continues Offensive


DE RUEHMO #2762/01 2561538
O 121538Z SEP 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) The Russian leadership September 10 and 11 continued
to justify Russia's actions in South Ossetia, while saying
that Russia was not seeking a new Cold War. Putin told
Western experts that Russia had no intention of invading any
other former Soviet republics, and strongly refuted South
Ossetia leader Kokoity's earlier assertion of future
integration with North Ossetia within Russia. While saying
Russia and the West had no ideological differences, Putin
accused the U.S. of "pushing" Georgia into attacking South
Ossetia by training and funding Georgia's armed forces and
expressed anger at U.S. ships in the Black Sea. FM Lavrov
told Polish TV that the Secretary had said that if Georgia
used force, it would "squander its chances to join NATO."
Lavrov also announced he would travel to the two regions
shortly to discuss opening Russian embassies there, and said
that Abkhazia and South Ossetia had left the Soviet Union
"the same way Georgia had." Following Defense Minister
Serdyukov's closed-door address to the Duma, in which there
were reportedly strong criticisms of Russia's military
capabilities, Medvedev announced that modernization of the
armed forces had become a top priority. A poll showed 48
percent of respondents favored relations with the West, while
those believing a new Cold War was unlikely (43 percent) just
edged out those who thought it was possible (40 percent).
The Georgian Embassy said it would withdraw all its diplomats
from Moscow by the end of September. End summary.

Putin Seeks to Persuade Valdai

2. (SBU) Demonstrating Moscow's recent efforts to argue its
case more forcefully to the international community, Putin
met with the Valdai Club of Russian and Western foreign
policy experts in Sochi September 11. Putin insisted Russia
had no "imperial ambitions," and had no plans to invade
another former Soviet Republic. He criticized the West's
"propaganda machine," claiming its coverage had been biased.
He said the U.S., instead of "seeking a solution to
interethnic conflicts," had "pushed" the Georgian side into
aggressive action by training the Georgian armed forces and
sending "huge financial resources there." He said Russia did
not want a new Cold War, but even if there was Cold-War like
opposition with the West, Russia would still cooperate on
issues such as terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, and
energy security. According to one participant, Putin had
dismissed concerns about economic consequences for Russia,
and had sought to convey a tough line in the face of domestic
criticism of Russian policy, including over dipping into the
stabilization fund, justifying (once again) Russian actions
as the right thing to have done. Harvard University Professor
Marshall Goldman, also a participant at the Valdai meeting,
echoed those comments. He told us he was struck by Putin's
self-confidence both in private and before the gathering of
experts. During the three hours he spent with foreign
experts, Putin was extremely critical of the west, and of the
U.S. in particular. Goldman, who with the group of experts
also spent three hours with President Medvedev September 12
in Moscow, contrasted Putin's bravado with Medvedev's
caution, his desire to work with the West and his hope to be
able to return to his domestic reform agenda.

Putin and Lavrov Shoot Down Kokoity on Reintegration
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (SBU) Both Putin and Lavrov rapidly shot down South
Ossetia leader Kokoity's comment that his region wanted to be
absorbed by Russia and rejoin North Ossetia. Kokoity then
said he had been "misunderstood;" South Ossetia did not want
to give up its independence and become part of Russia.
(Given Kokoity's unambiguous and repeated avowal to integrate
into Russia, Russia's print media pounced on the reversal.)

MFA on the Offensive with International Community
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (SBU) During his trip to Poland September 10-11, Lavrov
used interviews with Polish TV and press to argue Russia's
justification. In a clear effort to press Poland to proceed
with "business as usual," he stressed the potential for
increased cooperation and trade between Russia and Poland,
while highlighting that Russia provided 97 percent of
Poland's coal and 60 percent of its natural gas. He claimed
Russia was not seeking to punish Poland for its support of
Georgia. Ignoring 17 years of Russian support for Georgian
territorial integrity, Lavrov maintained that Abkhazia and
South Ossetia had left the Soviet Union the same way Georgia
had; they had had referenda, established governments,
parliaments, constitutions. He said if NATO supported
Georgia, it meant that NATO was supporting the aggressor, and
claimed the Secretary and U.S. officials had said that if
Georgia used force, it would squander its chances to join
NATO. Lavrov announced he would visit the two regions to
discuss opening of Russian embassies. DFM Ryabkov also made
the usual arguments in a wide-ranging interview, but stated
that the Secretary said the U.S. would oppose Russian
strategic interests.

Military Criticized; Armed Forces to be Modernized
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (SBU) The Duma reportedly raised concerns about Russia's
military readiness and equipment during a closed-door session
with Defense Minister Serdyukov and approved an increase of
1.5 trillion rubles (USD 60 billion) for the military, which
would make Russian defense spending approximately five
percent of GSP. Following this, Medvedev declared that
"Georgia's aggression" had demonstrated the need for Russia
to make modernizing its armed forces a "top priority."
Finance Minister Kudrin said that the government would review
and support proposed increases in defense spending, but they
would first need to be approved by the President.

Russians Don't Want New Cold War, but Don't Rule it Out
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (SBU) An Interfax poll showed 48 percent of respondents
strongly favored "mutually profitable relations" with the
West, with 33 percent saying Russia should stop being
dependent on the West. 43 percent of respondents believed a
new Cold War was unlikely, just barely beating the 40 percent
who said it was "more or less possible," and 13 percent not

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