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Cablegate: Ambassadorqs Meeting with Chief Justice Lebedev

VZCZCXRO4301
PP RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #2537/01 2801307
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071307Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5014
INFO RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 3720
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 3366
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 5490
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002537

AIDAC STATE FOR USAID/E&E
AIDAC STATE FOR USAID/DCHA
STATE FOR EUR/ACE, EUR/RUS, DRL

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID KJUS PREL PGOV PHUM SOCI RS
SUBJECT: AmbassadorQs Meeting with Chief Justice Lebedev

Sensitive But Unclassified. Not for Internet Distribution.

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1.(SBU) Ambassador Beyrle met with Chief Justice Vyacheslav Lebedev
of the Russian Federation Supreme Court on September 28. Lebedev
welcomed continued cooperation between the U.S. and Russian
judiciaries. He looked forward to his next visit to the U.S. and to
the likely visit to Russia in 2011 of U.S. Chief Justice John
Roberts. He is acutely aware of the image of the Russian judicial
system as reflected in USG human rights reports and press reports,
and argued that this image fails to appreciate major changes which
have occurred in the Russian judiciary. End Summary.

---------
PRAISE FOR RELATIONS BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIESQ JUDICIARIES
---------

2.(SBU) Vyacheslav Lebedev, the current Chief Justice of the RF
Supreme Court and before that the RSFSR Supreme Court since 1989,
greeted us at the CourtQs gleaming headquarters. Lebedev noted that
relations between the two countriesQ judiciaries have long been good
and have remained good notwithstanding fluctuations in international
relations. He recalled his first trip to the U.S. in 1989 and said
that he "loves America," including its jazz music. He recalled
wistfully his 2005 trip to the U.S., during which he met with nearly
all the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, including an ailing Chief
Justice Rehnquist. If either the American Bar Association or his
"colleagues" from the U.S. Supreme Court were to invite him to the
U.S., he would accept, adding that his Court has money for his
travel. Lebedev recalled that in the past, there had been even more
contact between representatives of the two countriesQ judiciaries
than there was at present. USAID noted that its budget in Russia has
declined since those days.

3.(SBU) Lebedev referenced the joint invitation extended to U.S.
Chief Justice John Roberts to visit Russia, signed by himself and
Chief Justice of the Supreme Arbitrazh Court Anton Ivanov and Chief
Justice of the Constitutional Court Valeriy Zorkin. (Chief Justice
Roberts responded that he would like very much to visit Russia, but
his schedule does not permit him to do so before the summer of
2011.) Lebedev said that they had a good program for his visit in
mind, which would include the opportunity to visit someplace in
regional Russia.

4.(SBU) Lebedev noted, without providing much in the way of
specifics, that some issues had become more complicated than was the
case in the 1990s. Then, the overriding desire had been to "make
the government democratic as quickly as possible, "without much
concern for making it "administrative" (he made a top to bottom
gesture, perhaps implicitly referencing todayQs "vertical of
power"), but the need had indeed arisen for something more practical
than merely being "democratic."

--------
CONCERN FOR THE COURTSQ IMAGE
--------

5. (SBU) Lebedev emphasized that he wanted to see "objective
accounts" of the Russian court system. It was fine to point out
inadequacies where those exist, but too many reports reflect an
unawareness of the changes that have occurred in the court system,
he said. He took issue with what he called "the human rights report
of the U.S. Congress," which he believes is inaccurate in its
description of the work of the courts. When the people writing such
reports show that they are not even aware of such basic facts as the
changes in relative power of judges and prosecutors, for example,
such reports lack credibility. He also took issue with press
reports which write as if things have not changed, when in fact they
have changed greatly, "in part due to our cooperation with our U.S.
colleagues."

6.(SBU) Lebedev said, "You often hear, QThe courts are corrupt.Q"
He said that if what is meant is that a judge is taking bribes, that
needs to be stated. But if corruption is a "nizovoye yavlenie" (a
grass-roots, pervasive phenomenon), then it cannot be the case that
the legislative and executive branches are "clean" and only the
judiciary is corrupt. The important thing for the judiciary, he
noted, is to act openly and make its decisions available to the
public. Lebedev referenced the increasing availability of court
decisions, noting that even if a hearing is closed to the public, as
when intimate details of a personQs private life are at issue, the

MOSCOW 00002537 002 OF 002


decision itself is public. (Note: A potentially important law on
public access to information about the work of the courts was
enacted in December 2008 and will require courts, among other
things, to place certain information on official websites beginning
July 1, 2010; some courts are ahead of this schedule. End Note.)

7.(SBU) Lebedev was asked about the potential for Russian judges
travel abroad in light of a 2008 law restricting inter alia judges
right to receive compensation for travel. (Note: USAIDQs rule of law
program implementation has faced some difficulty of late, believed
to be related to some judges interpreting the 2008 law as
prohibiting them from participating in programs for which their
participation is underwritten by USG-funded assistance Q and there
is some speculation that these judges are reacting to signals from
Lebedev. End note.) Lebedev responded that his Court has money for
travel, and that when Russian judges travel abroad they may pay
their own transportation expenses, but might accept hotel expenses
from the hosting side; the important thing is that such travel be
"na paritetnom osnove" (on an equal footing), perhaps a reference to
a restriction in the law forbidding judges from accepting certain
types of compensation "solely from foreign governments or
international organizations."

8.(SBU) In response to our noting that some Russian officials seem
to be afraid of continued close cooperation with Americans, and
reminded that the role of NGOs was sometimes depicted very
negatively in Russia, Lebedev responded that there was nothing for
anyone to be afraid of. While some old-fashioned NGOs may still
take the attitude of "waiting for someone to come for them at four
oQclock in the morning," that attitude isnQt typical, Lebedev said,
and NGOs have a role to play in supporting the work of the courts.

--------
COMMENT:
--------

9.(SBU) The Supreme Court has often been regarded as lagging on
reforms. Contacts have told post that Lebedev, having headed the
court for 20 years, hopes nonetheless to be remembered as having
been an advocate for judicial prerogatives and something of a
progressive on human rights issues. He told several stories to
burnish his credentials along these lines, including recalling how
he stood up for the right to habeas corpus in the early 1990Qs and
rebuffed a recent attempt by Finance Minister Kudrin to cut back
funding for the courts, which, Lebedev claimed, would have
undermined judicial independence. Lebedev has survived longer than
most high-ranking government officials, and, it seems to us, would
like to end his career with positive recognition from his foreign
peers and the public. We hope that this desire for such a legacy
will lead him to remove any obstacles to further judge participation
in USG rule of law programs. Continued USG engagement with Russian
courts through direct judiciary-to-judiciary contacts, and through
carefully targeted programs managed by USAID, LES, Open World, and
the Russian Foundation for Economic Advancement and Rule of Law, can
capitalize on LebedevQs desire for recognition and help the courts
continue on their long road of evolution in a positive direction.

BEYRLE

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