Cablegate: Kaliningrad Outreach: Despite Cool Reception, Solid Interest

R 300835Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Consulate officers traveled to Kaliningrad
recently for public diplomacy and consular outreach. Despite a
cool reception at Kaliningrad's main university and amidst
rumors of misdeeds associated with the collapse of the region's
main airline, Conoffs managed to meet with hundreds of students,
engage in extensive press activities, promote American values
and culture, glean valuable information about the Summer Work
and Travel experience among local students, and provide
anti-fraud training at the airport. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) At Immanuel Kant State University, the head of the
international office informed Conoff that only 65 of the 1000
Kant students participating in study-abroad programs go to the
U.S. each year. Claiming that the US "is of no interest to the
university," he said he was focused mainly on positioning Kant
State University as a regional educational establishment,
conducting the majority of its exchanges with Germany, Poland,
Lithuania, France, and the UK. As for the U.S. Summer Work and
Travel (SWT) program, he was disdainful; unprompted, he insisted
that because he works for an educational institution, he had "no
interest in any program that involves summer jobs." He warned
us not to expect more than two or three students for the SWT
presentation, but there were already 20 seated when Conoffs
arrived, and another 18 trickled in during the two presentations
on student visas and the SWT program. All students were visibly
engaged, and the Q&A session confirmed that many were seriously
interested both in studying in the US and in the SWT program.
Despite the director's personal lack of interest, and what
appeared to be a limited effort to spread the word on campus,
the turnout was stronger than anticipated.


3. PAO gave six one-on-one TV, newspaper and radio interviews,
covering everything from missile defense to culinary diplomacy.
The most frequently asked question was whether the U.S. plans to
open a consulate in Kaliningrad. Explaining the new,
user-friendly U.S. visa application system for facilitating
travel to the U.S., the PAO responded that opening a consulate
in Kaliningrad would not be necessary.

4. In addition to media engagements, PAO gave three
presentations to three very different audiences. His "Gogol in
Hollywood" speech, preceded a showing of Danny Kaye's "The
Inspector General" to an audience of over 30 people celebrating
writer Nikolai Gogol's bicentennial. His "Celebrating 200 Years
of U.S.-Russian Relations" presentation to 40 students and
faculty at Kaliningrad State University was followed by an hour
of questions and answers. PAO also made a stop at a local high
school to speak on the "West Coast of the United States" and its
influence on American English to a standing room-only group of
50 students.


5. (SBU) Conoff met with the two Summer Work and Travel agencies
operating in Kaliningrad. International Exchange agency
confirmed that their numbers for 2009 were far lower than 2008:
200 clients this year, versus 600 last. They do not expect a
large uptick for the 2010 SWT season, but are hopeful that
around 300 will apply. They also shared some students' recent
experiences with us: in the past, it had been possible for
participants to work two, even three jobs simultaneously,
allowing them to earn good money. In 2009, however, most were
faced with reduced hours, lower pay, and less job availability.

6. (SBU) The agents also explained why some applicants consider
applying in Moscow instead of St. Petersburg: flights to the
northern capital are much more expensive. Trains are more
affordable, ostensibly, but since they cross international
borders, forcing applicants to wait in St. Petersburg until they
receive their passports from us through Pony Express, they are
not always a cheaper option. Lastly, International Exchange
informed us that they assist students with applications to other
countries' SWT programs in Argentina, Costa Rica, Mauritius,
Spain, France and Brazil - the competition is heating up.

7. (SBU) "Student Agency" is a one-woman outfit resurrected from
the rubble of "Candidate," an SWT agency that collapsed last
year after its main US source of jobs, Century Pools Management,
went under and could not pay salaries to a number of SWT
participants. Student Agency now works with Geovisions in the
US to offer jobs in hotels, restaurants, pools, moving companies
and fisheries. Its director plans to open a new office shortly
and to hire a secretary. Her target for the 2010 SWT season is
30 to 50 students.


8. (SBU) At Kaliningrad's Khrabrovo Airport Conoff conducted two
training sessions - "Detecting Counterfeit U.S. Visas" and
"Identifying Impostors" - with KD-Avia's nine-member document
inspection team. The participants were receptive, responsive,
and asked many questions during our two-hour session.
Immediately after the training sessions, we met with the head of
the visa and immigration service. After brief mention of the
airline's recent financial troubles, the KD-Avia security
service head began to inform us that airport authorities had
just asked him to "pack up his office." He surmised that
federal security organs were trying to chase him out of his job
because of his "Israeli military background," and because of his
unyielding stance when federal security agents had tried to push
some of their contacts through security and onto flights, even
though some carried illegitimate documents.

9. (SBU) The KD-Avia security chief wanted to continue the
conversation and offered to share documents with us; we
demurred. He later informed us that he and his staff quickly
"went on vacation," citing rules that ostensibly prevented them
from being fired while on leave, and conveying the hope that his
staff would be reinstated once the company's financial crisis
had passed.

10. (SBU) Note: KD-Avia company runs both the airline and the
airport, although it currently is entering bankruptcy
proceedings and has halted operation of all KD-Avia flights.
The airport continues to service other Russian carriers and Air
Baltic, the only foreign airline flying in and out of
Kaliningrad. End note.


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