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Cablegate: Belykh Faces Rough Year Ahead in Kirov

DE RUEHMO #2542/01 2810612
R 080612Z OCT 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 002542


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/01/2019


Classified By: Classifi...

1. (C) Summary: Our September 23-25 visit to Kirov revealed a newly-settled government slowly expanding its influence within the region. Strict limitations placed on Governor Belykh and his staff by local security services six months ago appear to have eased significantly, and the new government remains moderately popular despite friction between its youthful, moderate image and the conservative, paternalistic nature of the general population. Belykh must now make good on his promises to fight corruption, improve efficiency in government and attract investment and economic growth over the last nine months. This will involve serious clashes with both the corruption of local law enforcement and the vested interests of local power players. Despite being a former opposition figure, it appears that the priority of Belykh's long-term agenda is delivering at least 60 percent of the vote to United Russia in local elections 18 months from now. Achieving that level of support will require enormous political savvy on Belykh's part, and a string of impressive policy victories over the next year. In the absence of genuine support at the polls, Belykh's staff openly consider falsifying the vote count. End Summary. ----------------------------------- Region Returns to Business as Usual -----------------------------------
2. (C) Nine months into his term, Kirov Oblast Governor Nikita Belykh's honeymoon period is over. The fanfare (reftel) observed in the 100 days following his appointment and the visit of President Medvedev has abated, though the populace has remained guardedly optimistic in opinion polls. Journalists, private businessmen and members of the Governor's staff all stressed that Kirov is an extremely conservative and patriarchal region resistant to change. Sergey Bachinin, Chief Editor of the local daily Vyatskaya Nabludatel (Vyatka Observer), characterized Belykh as the "Little Colonizer." He has brought with him from Moscow a core team of young liberals who, while not alienating the population, have certainly not yet made progress shaking up the status quo. That said, both Bachinin and Nikolay Golikov, Chief Editor of the weekly Vyatskaya Osobaya Gazeta (Vyatka Free Paper), agreed that Belykh has generally lived up to the public's limited expectations thus far. Belykh and his team, they contend, are treading water with the local constituency, and must focus on concrete policy successes to make real inroads with the people.
3. (C) The closed nature of Kirov society stands as the single greatest obstacle to true reform. While pleased with the freedom of access they enjoy to the Governor, Bachinin and Golikov lamented the discomfort this openness and honesty engenders in the local population. The clan psychology of this previously closed region directly supports corruption and undermines attempts to fight inefficiency in local bureaucracies. Belykh advisors Aleksey Navalniy, Aleksey Kozmin and Vice Governor Maria Gaidar all stressed the inherent difficulty of penetrating a system where most decision-makers not only have long personal relationships, but are often closely related family members. Navalniy counted as one success Belykh's ability to maintain positive relationships with local elites, federal security services and the existing governmental structure of Kirov Oblast and City. He was quick to follow, however, that this cannot last. Belykh's agenda to pursue a fight against corruption, improve the efficiency and depth of social services, and deliver solid results in upcoming regional elections will severely strain these relations. --------------------------- Corruption vs. Inefficiency ---------------------------
4. (C) The fight against corruption is the most important short-term challenge facing Belykh. The source of corruption is the security services, which largely operate within a vertical leading back to Moscow, outside of the governor's purview. Navalniy stated that, even with Medvedev's visit, Belykh still lacks the bureaucratic clout to go after the local Siloviki. He reminded us of the scandal which followed our last visit to Kirov (reftel) in which the local FSB was infuriated that Navalniy had met with US government representatives. As he explained, this had much to do with the timing of the last visit; Belykh had begun his term only three months earlier and Medvedev had just left days before. MOSCOW 00002542 002 OF 003 Belykh clearly draws his mandate from Medvedev, while the local security services see their chain of command leading back to Putin. Both sides were pushing against each other to establish boundaries. While the confrontation has largely settled down, in no small part due to the appointment of former MVD General Sergei Karnaukov as an advisor to Belykh, there is still strong resistance within the security services to any local government interference.
5. (C) Maria Gaidar placed her experience with corruption in juxtaposition to her experience with bureaucratic waste and inefficiency. Her mandate covers healthcare and social services, two areas where she claims little corruption because there is little money. (Note: Gaidar was referring to money removed from the operating budget through waste, fraud and abuse. In contract, the regular payment of bribes in return for medical and social services is well known. End Note.) Her challenge stemmed instead from an inefficient patronage system based on personal connections which drives talented workers to leave Kirov for better opportunities elsewhere. Gaidar does not seem concerned with removing ineffective leadership, and is instead focused on identifying promising younger professionals and giving them broader responsibilities. This approach runs head long into the paternalistic psychology of Kirov. Resistance to her tactic of bypassing seniority in the face of vested interests remains her largest obstacle to structural reform.
6. (C) Vice Governor Oleg Kozakovtsev stressed that bringing foreign investment to Kirov was a key policy goal as only foreign capital investment could modernize local industry, particularly forestry. Recognizing that the region was in serious economic crisis, he expected a large budget deficit in the coming year. He mentioned three times that our Ambassador should visit Kirov and bring with him a delegation of American businessmen. Some members of Belykh's team, however, are not so optimistic. Navalniy was openly negative about opportunities in the area and felt that any visit by a foreign delegation would be 'a dog and pony show,' nothing more. Kozmin was quick to interrupt that he thought the forestry industry did show great potential, but admitted it would take enormous investment. --------------------- Obligations to Moscow ---------------------
7. (C) The first potential breaking point for Belykh's administration will be the upcoming regional election in 18 months. It has been made clear to Navalniy that, in order for Belykh to maintain support from Medvedev, he will have to deliver at least a 60 percent return for United Russia. Polling shows that actual support for United Russia is closer to 42 percent. With 9 percent supporting the Communist Party and 4 percent supporting LDPR, nearly half of the electorate is undecided. Polling was conducted by a Perm organization that Belykh trusts, but neither Navalniy nor Kozmin were willing to name. Navalniy stated bluntly that Belykh had two options available to maintain Kremlin support: deliver 60 percent of the vote to United Russia legitimately, or else rig the election.
8. (C) In order to raise approval ratings in the next 18 months legitimately, all advisors agreed that Belykh must make serious gains against corruption as well as stimulating the economy of the region. As noted above, pursuing these goals will involve direct clashes with local interest groups - not least of which the security services. The Governor appears able to maintain his approval rating for the foreseeable future while avoiding confrontation, but there is clearly a feeling among his staff that he must begin strong reforms soon or risk running out of time to demonstrate clear success before election season begins. There is also agreement that he needs more time to gauge the political atmosphere and attract allies to his cause before taking on serious opponents. Belykh will need to show incredible political savvy over the next year and a half to achieve these goals. ---------------------------------------- Players in the Kirov Regional Government ----------------------------------------
9. (C) Governor Belykh's team includes the following insiders: Vice Governor Sergey Scherchkov focuses on economic issues. He is from Perm, where he served as a Duma member when Belykh was Vice Governor; MOSCOW 00002542 003 OF 003 Vice Governor Maria Gaidar focuses on health care and social services. She is from Moscow, where she has long ties with the now defunct Union of Right Forces. She had decided to pursue graduate work in the US before this opportunity in Kirov arose. She stated that she still plans study in the US, and mentioned that she did not like living in Kirov; Vice Governor Arzamatsev is a former businessman and entrepreneur from Krasnoyarsk, formerly a member of the Union of Right Forces; Vice Governor Oleg Kozakoltsev focuses on the budget, economics and business development. He is the only Kirov native in Belykh's circle, but was not involved with the last administration. He was brought into government by Belykh; Alexey Novilny, a lawyer, advies Belykh on political matters. He seems particularly focused on polling and the upcoming elections. He is based in Moscow, and expressed a clear desire to get out of Kirov, which he described as boring. He is taking classes to improve his English with the stated aim of studying in the US; Aleksey Kozmin advises Belykh on economic issues. The extent of his influence is unclear; and Sergei Karnaukov, is a retired MVD general now acting as an advisor to the Governor on relations with the security services. He does not appear to have a long-standing relationship to the rest of the team, but is trusted by Belykh. The following government members were singled out in meetings as having been part of the inefficient old guard under previous Governor Nikolay Shaklein, and are viewed by Belykh's inner circle as obstacles to the Governor's drive toward transparency in government: Vice Governor Eduard Alekseyevich Noskov coordinates activities of the executive branch with regard to the economic sector and business development; Vice Governor Aleksander Pavlovich Gortskin focuses on energy and housing; and Aleksey Alekseyevich Kotlyatchkov is head of the Department of Agriculture and Food. ----------- Speculation -----------
10. (C) When asked about the influence of Belykh's opposition background, Bachinin laughed and replied that there is no opposition in Russia and the Union of Right Forces was a club for intellectuals. He views Belykh's governorship as a Medvedev program, just as the Right Cause political party is a Medvedev program. This stands in direct contrast to United Russia, which is clearly a Putin product. Bachinin speculated that Medvedev might be grooming Belykh as a future Prime Minister. When asked about this point, Navalniy agreed that Belykh was never part of the opposition in the same way as Garry Kasparov. He also views this arrangement with Belykh as a well-conceived power move by Medvedev, and not a "liberal experiment" aimed at bringing greater democracy to Russia. In his mind, Medvedev is building a cadre of effective leaders as a counter-balance to Putin's United Russia machine. Belykh made a pragmatic decision that it was better to be governor than to be nothing. This was the basis for a deal with Medvedev which is keeping Belykh out of Moscow and, perhaps more importantly, out of any serious opposition. ------- Comment -------
11. (C) Under Medvedev's patronage Belykh has settled into Kirov and laid out an ambitious agenda for the year. It has been made clear, however, that Medvedev's support comes with caveats for United Russia: Belykh must deliver in the upcoming elections. If he is able to take on vested interests and demonstrate clear policy victories to the electorate, he may then be able to secure the necessary 60 percent. If he is unable to navigate Kirov's political and bureaucratic waters, 18 months from now he may find himself having to admit failure and suffer the political consequences - not an option that he would consider lightly. Beyrle

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