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Cablegate: Medvedev's Call for Reform: Anyone Listening?

DE RUEHMO #2354/01 2571501
P 141501Z SEP 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 002354


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/14/2019

Classified By: Ambassador John R. Beyrle; reasons 1.4(b/d).

1. (C) Summary: President Medvedev's article "Russia
Forward," released on the Internet with little fanfare
September 10, launched a vociferous debate among politicians
and analysts about the feasibility and probability of the
kinds of reforms needed to implement his vision for a more
diverse economy, healthier population and engaged citizenry.
It also launched the fall political season, fueling
speculation of divisions within the tandem and jockeying for
position before 2012 elections. The article is not so much a
break with the Putin past, as an attempt to moderate its
excesses. Regardless of who wrote it, Medvedev has now
linked his political fortunes to realizing its vision. End

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2. (C) In a lengthy essay entitled "Russia Forward," first
released mid-day September 10 on the liberal
Internet website, and later posted to the Kremlin's website,
President Medvedev described a litany of ills that plague
Russia: reliance on the export of raw materials as the
primary source of national income; the decrepit state of
infrastructure; the cancer of corruption; and the weaknesses
of civil society and the institutions meant to channel
citizen participation in government. It is a bluntly
pessimistic assessment, combined with a vague call to action
and an appeal to the public to support him in combating these
ills and to rally, as they did in World War II, to defeat
these new enemies that threaten their country's and
children's future. Medvedev focuses on the imperatives of
modernization, of economic diversification and of the
involvement of an active, engaged citizenry, in fighting
corruption. He is unusually pointed in identifying an
"ensconced group of corrupt officials and do-nothing
entrepreneurs" as the chief source of these problems. The
article presents no solutions to the maladies outlined.
Medvedev is fact eschews the more liberal path of the 1990's,
repeating oft-used complaints against the "liberals" who
brought political chaos and economic and financial
destitution to Russia by the end of that decade.

Reactions - Call for Action? Plea for Sympathy?
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (C) Medvedev succeeded, if in doing nothing else, in
giving political commentators ample material for policy - and
political analysis. His manifesto answered the call of many
elites who had been demanding a strong declaration of
presidential views on the present situation. Others are
connecting this article with his previous declarations,
noting that, as in the past, the rhetoric comes without any
concrete proposals for resolving these issues.

4. (C) Speculation began immediately as to the author of the
text. Some credit Medvedev with writing much of the article
himself, noting that it elaborates on themes he has been
publicly stressing during his presidency - his famous (if
dormant) four "I's," the fight against corruption, poor
infrastructure (roads, health care, etc.), demographic
problems and the need for citizen participation. Some have
focused on this exposition as a not-so-veiled critique of the
Putin years - building on Medvedev's earlier comments after
the dam disaster about the country lagging technologically.
However, others see in the text the hand of Vladislav Surkov,
Kremlin architect of Russia's "sovereign" democracy. Most of
the article's main themes - Russia's backwardness, the
do-nothing entrepreneurs, high-tech as an economic salvation
- were previewed by Surkov in a July 28 discussion with
Ambassador. The appeal for greater public involvement in the
managed, strictly-defined institutions created by Surkov
could only have been promoted by the "Grey Cardinal" himself.

5. (C) For the most part reaction among leading political
commentators - on editorial pages of major newspapers, on the
radio talk show circuit and on the plethora of
politically-oriented blogs - has been politely welcoming of
Medvedev's intentions, but critical of the clear disconnect
between his stated ideals, and the very different reality
which he plays a role in sustaining. XXXXXXXXXXXX
described Medvedev's perspective as a "Soviet way of looking
at things;" the reality, and what those in power paint as the
reality, do not correspond. XXXXXXXXXXXX argued
that it was hypocritical of Medvedev to talk about political
competition when in Moscow opposition parties are denied
the right to participate in elections. He belittled the calls for
political engagement by citizens in the current Putin-made

MOSCOW 00002354 002 OF 003

system - of which Medvedev is a direct beneficiary - a system
that has in fact dismantled pluralism and restricted
political involvement.

6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX emphasized that the article is a trial
balloon for Medvedev's annual address to the nation (poslanie),
planned for late October or early November. It was reported weeks
ago that Medvedev and a team of consultants had already begun
work on a draft during summer holidays in Sochi. While his
2008 poslanie centered on political reform, his 2009 address
is said to focus on economic reforms. XXXXXXXXXXXX
charged that the article - perhaps one basis for the poslanie - is an
appeal for ideas, but not a clear call to liberals trumpeting
their goals and aspirations. Rather, it charts a middle
course, and will be used by both liberals and conservatives
for their own purposes. It is a political document, intended
not to advance the goals he speaks of, but to bolster his
position among both camps. XXXXXXXXXXXX criticized the
article for not having outlined solutions and for its sharp
rejection of any constructive lessons that could be gleaned
from the so-called liberal ways of the 1990's and be applied to
address Russia's problems of today.

Medvedev in 2012? Tandem Tensions?

7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX has warmed to giving him the benefit
of the doubt in recent months, told us that he appreciated the
sentiments that motivated the article, but was frustrated
that there was no plan outlined for action. XXXXXXXXXXXX
argued that the kind of development envisioned by Medvedev
is hindered by an alliance between business and government
bureaucracy - business pays off the bureaucracy and bureaucracy
defends business from real competition. Until that bond is broken,
real economic reform based on innovation will be impossible.
Medvedev's indictment of the judicial system was also on
target, he told us, but would require a long-term commitment
to fighting entrenched interests if it is to be reformed.

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX called the article's ideas "Putin 2.0,"
modifications to the general principles that have guided Russia
over the past decade, but not a rejection of them. Combined
with Putin once again publicly toying with the idea of running
for president in 2012, Medvedev's article revives speculation
that the two leaders do not see eye-to-eye on major issues,
and that should Medvedev not build momentum for the
changes he espouses, Putin may step forward to present a status
quo platform more to the liking of the oligarchs and possibly
more appealing to average citizens. While the Internet is
abuzz with commentary on the article, state-run television
has accorded it minimal coverage, focusing more on Putin's
annual performance before the Valdai Group.

9. (C) Kremlin-sanctioned opposition political parties (KPRF,
LDPR, Just Russia and Right Cause) issued mildly supportive
statements about the President's appeal for national
dialogue, though KPRF Deputy Chairman Melnikov argued that
the call will fall on deaf ears given that "the state has
worked hard to switch off the peoples' minds in recent
years." Yabloko leadership issued a scathing rebuke, calling
the article nothing but empty words when judged against
Medvedev's ineffectiveness in defending basic freedoms and
democracy during his presidency.

Where to from Here?

10. (C) While the initial disappointment over the absence of
concrete proposals may be understandable, Medvedev himself
cautioned that change would be evolutionary, not
revolutionary. Taken with the results of a recent Levada
poll that shows regional leaders more disposed toward Putin,
Medvedev may be taking a slow approach, connecting with his
"base" - urbanites, better-educated elites and the
Internet-connected middle class - seeking their support for
processes which will have benefits not for them, but for
their children. Having responded to the growing uneasiness
among his "base" that he had not yet used his "bully pulpit"
enough to put forward an agenda to correct the political
deterioration and economically-myopic policies of the Putin
years (fixated on the export of raw materials), Medvedev has
sparked a national debate - at least among those with access

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to the Internet (33 percent of Russians). Given that Putin's
support is the main source of Medvedev's hold on power, it is
hard to imagine that the article could have been released
without general agreement with its content by Putin himself.
Whoever wrote the actual article, it is a first-person
Medvedev document, and his political credibility depends on
follow-through -- with citizens, in his poslanie and in
taking on entrenched bureaucratic and business interests.

© Scoop Media

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