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Cablegate: Violence Erupts at Latest Vladivostok Demonstration

R 230637Z DEC 08


E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Vladivostok citizens' third protest against proposed tariff
increases on imported used cars turned violent and resulted in
large-scale detentions. Though past demonstrations were
peaceful and ended without incident, it was clear from the
beginning of this December 21 rally that the Kremlin would be
taking a firmer stand and present a greatly increased security
stance. Local militia was augmented by 180 officers from the
`Zubr' special police detachment sent in from Moscow.

2. The presence of the more aggressive out-of-town forces lead
to severe beatings of several protesters and innocent bystanders
and the detention of about 200 of the over 1,500 people who were
present on the city's central square. Even local FSB
plainclothes officers were reportedly beaten by the
indiscriminate Moscow Zubr forces. Many of those detained were
journalists, including a Japanese crew from NHK Broadcasting,
whose video equipment was damaged during a melee with security
forces. Local courts worked into the night after the
demonstration, issuing dozens of fines and 6-day jail terms for
six of those arrested. Some journalists referred to the
crackdown in Vladivostok as "Bloody Sunday," a reference to the
violent suppression of striking factory workers in Moscow by
Czarist security forces in 1905.

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3. Some 500 people had gathered at the main city square on the
previous day as well, displaying banners with slogans such as
"Putin, fight the oligarchs, not the people!" and playing
Soviet-era war and revolutionary songs. Police quickly moved in
to disband that protest, briefly detaining about 20 participants
on charges of taking part in an unsanctioned rally. Peaceful
but smaller protests took place in over 40 Russian cities,
including Khabarovsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Khabarovsk, and
Blagoveshchensk in the Russian Far East, and Moscow and
St.Petersburg in Western Russia.

Unusually Strong Government Reaction

4. The latest events showed that the Kremlin does not plan to
negotiate on the issue and will crack down on Far Easterners'
attempts, in Putin's words, "to destabilize the country." The
use of Special Forces from outside the area indicated not only
that Moscow would no longer tolerate resistance on the issue,
but also that it found that local militia forces were too
sympathetic to demonstrators at past rallies. In addition,
locaQauthorities received directives to warn university
students and employees of local companies in advance not to take
part in future protests or risk dismissal. Law enforcement
officials declared the whole weekend official working days for
all personnel, who were tasked with preventing people from
forming crowds. Consulate contacts indicated that during the
lead up to the demonstration, FSB officers scrutinized popular
local internet chat rooms and monitored mobile phone and SMS
messages of organizers. Those identified as the most active
organizers received personal visits from FSB officers, who
attempted to dissuade them from participating.

Kremlin Makes Minor Concessions

5. Just two days before the most recent demonstration, Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin held a special panel meeting of the
National Council at a Kamaz truck factory in Naberezhnye Chelny
devoted to finding ways to support national automobile
production. At the session, he said that "it is inadmissible
for Russians to spend money on imported cars when Russian
domestic manufacturers are cutting back production." As a
concession, Putin offered to provide free rail shipping for
Russian-built cars to the Far East for one year and to subsidize
interest on loans used to purchase Russian-made cars costing no
more than 350,000 Rubles (USD 12,500) during 2009. The offers
were ridiculed and dismissed as half-hearted by most Far

6. The issue of increased tariffs on imported cars has taken on
a much larger scope to Far Easterners than simply being a
question of how much their preferred automobiles will cost.
Residents here consider the question a test of the democratic
process and free market reforms in the New Russia. Many here
assert that the issue highlights the Kremlin's preference taking
care of the interests of oligarchs over looking after the needs
of the general population. Journalists made special note that
the crackdown was the first time federal forces have attacked
ethnic Russians since the fall of the Soviet Union. In a note
of local dissatisfaction with Moscow, a group of locals beat up
three off-duty OMON officers outside a downtown cafi at night
after the demonstration.


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