Cablegate: Snowy Ufa Warmly Welcomes Consulate Travelers

R 131010Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but Unclassified. Not for Internet. Not for
Dissemination Outside of USG.

1. (SBU) Consul General and Public Affairs Officer traveled
to Ufa November 6-8. The delegation had official meetings with
the president of the Bashkortostan Republic Murtaza Rakhimov,
Bashkortostan Minister of Foreign Relations and Trade Boris
Kolbin, Ufa mayor Pavel Kachkayev and Supreme Mufti Talgat
Tadjuddin. CG and PAO opened a photographic exhibit on the
activities of the American Relief Administration (ARA) during
the famine in Bashkortostan in the 1920's, met with U.S. program
alumni and faculty at the Bashkortostan State Pedagogic
University and visited Ufa's American Corner. Our eight hour
journey to Ufa by car took us across the Ural Mountains, which
were picturesque under an early-winter mantle of white. Our
hosts joked that we had brought the first snow of the season to

2. (SBU) President Rakhimov opened the meeting with
approving remarks on the recently conducted U.S. presidential
elections. He proudly spoke of the stability of his
multi-ethnic republic, noting that over 100 nationalities live
together peacefully there. Our party observed that rural
villages appeared more prosperous in Bashkortostan than in other
regions of the Urals, which the president attributed to the fact
that agricultural reform in the republic had proceeded more
slowly, and state and collective farm structures were preserved
alongside private agriculture. Approximately one third of
Bashkortostan's population is rural, and the birth rate is
rising in these areas.

3. (SBU) According to Rakhimov, the global economic
crisis had not yet had a major impact on Bashkortostan, due to
the relatively low levels of foreign investment and the
relatively small number of international banking institutions
operating there. (Citibank was the only U.S. bank we observed
to be present in Ufa.) According to official data, the U.S. is
the region's12th ranked foreign trade partner. Rakhimov noted
that trade turnover with the U.S. stood at about $220 million
per year -- about 3.2 percent of the republic's total foreign
trade. The president noted an interest in importing agriculture
machinery and reminisced about his trip to the U.S. 19 years ago
to sign an agreement to purchase U.S.-made harvesters and
combines. He also noted the need for investors in the forestry
and petrochemical sectors.

4. (SBU) Rakhimov received us warmly and chatted
amiably throughout our 40-minute meeting, though the 74-year old
leader appeared to tire towards the end. He did not seem like a
man worried about whether he would be reappointed by the Kremlin
to the post he has occupied since 1993, despite media reports of
scandal and corruption surrounding his son and other prominent
members of his administration.

5. (SBU) CG and PAO met with Kolbin prior to meeting
with Rakhimov to discuss general economic issues. Kolbin stated
that Bashkortostan would experience a growth rate of about 10
per cent this year. He pointed to agriculture as one of the
republic's success stories, with its produce being delivered
throughout the Urals. Meanwhile, excess capacity in the
petrochemical industry remains a legacy of the Soviet era.
Kolbin stated that Bashkortostan refined about 50 million tons
of oil per year during the Soviet period, but refines only about
28 million tons today.

6. (SBU) Kolbin enumerated several foreign investments
in Bashkortostan, including: a Turkish glass bottle making
factory; an Austrian ceramic tile factory; a French sheetrock
manufacturing facility; a Siemens Corporation factory that
manufactures transformers; a Czech cement factory and a Slovak
facility that makes industrial packing materials. Current U.S.
joint ventures include a company that makes seismic gauges and
an oil field service operator.

7. (SBU) Kolbin expressed a pressing need for modern
agricultural machinery - tractors, combines and harvesters.
Both Kolbin and Rakhimov expressed a preference for American
equipment. Kolbin also noted a need for assistance in
developing modern packaging for Bashkortostan's food processing
industry. He said a delegation would be making a presentation
to the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow in December.
Kolbin pointed to gains in the area of environmental protection
and cleanup and expressed interest in the possibility of
exchanges with American environmental experts.

8. (U) Ufa mayor Kachkayev spoke proudly of his city's
development, and downtown storefronts displaying a variety of
foreign products and a selection of upscale restaurants backed
him up. Nevertheless, Ufa suffers from an ongoing housing
shortage. Despite increasing levels of housing construction
over the past two years, the city still ranks ahead of only
Rostov-na-Donu in terms of per capita housing space in cities of
over one million in population (excluding Moscow and St.
Petersburg). Ongoing municipal assistance projects include a
15-million Euro water treatment project funded by the EBRD and a
series of projects to develop health care, recreational
facilities and a migration center in conjunction with the Swiss
aid agency.

9. (SBU) The meeting with Talgat Tadjuddin, Supreme
Mufti of Russia and Chairman of the Central Spiritual Board of
Muslims in Russia, took place in his elaborately decorated
office. (Our female FSN notetakers were relegated to a side
wall of the Mufti's office and seated on a divan covered with a
quilt made of several stitched-together fox pelts.) The Mufti
was in a talkative mood and made frequent jokes, many of which
could have been interpreted as being at our expense. He
welcomed the result of the U.S. presidential election.
Emphasizing the president elect's middle name, the Mufti said
that all Muslims would now respect the United States. He tried
to downplay his 2003 declaration of Jihad on the United States
by saying his remarks had been misinterpreted.

10. (SBU) The Mufti said that Russia was still
threatened by Wahabbism, especially from those who had studied
abroad. He dismissed Russian Muslim participants in U.S.
exchange programs as Wahabbis and nominated himself as a
potential exchange visitor. He complained that all of the power
in Russia was wielded by the president, prime minister and the
Orthodox Church, effectively excluding Muslims. He charged that
Russia views Muslims as useful only when they are needed to
serve at the front during times of war. Nevertheless, he
claimed to have good relations with President Medvedev and said
he was at the Kremlin for the president's November 5 address.
The Mufti's son Muhammad, who may be being groomed to succeed
his father, was present at the meeting.

11. (U) The exhibit opening was held at the
Bashkortostan National Museum. The headquarters of the ARA were
in Ufa, and several Americans worked there between 1922-24. The
exhibit was prepared by the Consulate General's Public Affairs
section based on materials from Stanford's Hoover Institute and
the Chelyabinsk regional historical museum. Despite the
sensitive nature of the subject matter, the history of which was
suppressed during Soviet times, and graphic depictions of
children suffering, the exhibit was well received. The museum
director privately remarked that his mother had told him of
receiving food donated by Americans.

12. (U) CG and PAO learned of a range of contacts in a
variety of fields between American academics and the Ufa State
Pedagogic University, which supports a successful English
language program. The American-Bashkir Intercollege, an NGO
which has operated since 1996, is one of the most successful
programs of its kind. Its English language summer camp for
disadvantaged kids has served as a model for similar camps in
Russia. At the American Corner, CG and PAO spoke to an
enthusiastic group of teachers and student alumni of U.S.
exchange programs about the U.S. elections.


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