Cablegate: Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #2779/01 3161232
O 121232Z NOV 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002779


E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/11/2019

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

1. (C) Summary: United Russia's handling of the October 11 elections has left it with a pyrrhic victory. The party achieved majorities in regional parliaments and big city councils at a cost of cynicism and apathy on the part of a vast majority of Russians. The election results point to a blatant misuse of United Russia's administrative resources, as well as corruption by overzealous bureaucrats who were under pressure from higher authorities to "win big." Despite the short Duma boycott by opposition parties, there have been only a few strident calls to challenge the election results. Opposition parties' inability to mount an effective campaign contributed to their poor showing and United Russia's victories. As United Russia prepares for its party congress on November 21 in Saint Petersburg, it faces the challenge of governing, maintaining some degree of cooperation with the opposition, and keeping in touch with key elite groups and Russian public opinion. Medvedev and Putin will try to keep the public's focus on modernization and their "success" in combating the economic crisis. End Summary.

Next Steps After Victory

2. (C) Moscow has been abuzz with rumors of personnel and policy changes since United Russia's blow-out victory in the October 11 elections. Following the short-lived Duma walkout by the three main opposition parties with representation in the Duma, leaders of Just Russia, Communists, and Liberal Democrats met with President Medvedev. He deflected their criticism of Central Election Commission Chairman Churov by urging the courts to review the most egregious examples of fraud without disparaging the results. Although pundits are already writing Moscow Mayor Luzhkov's political obituary, reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. Party leadership is split over how to respond to his staff's augmentation of Moscow's voting totals. Rumors that he will slowly be eased out of government and United Russia responsibilities abound. Luzhkov takes care of his supporters and remains very popular in Moscow. Given his popularity, it seems unlikely that he will leave office anytime soon.

3. (C) Presidential Administration Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the intellectual godfather of United Russia, is widely perceived as having benefited from the elections results. Downplaying gross excesses in Moscow and other regions, several party insiders told us Surkov sees the victory of only Kremlin-sanctioned parties as vindication of the "sovereign democracy" concept. Surkov and United Russia insider Gleb Pavlovskiy have credibility with United Russia's "brain trust," including Valeriy Fadeyev, Nikolay Bunin, and Vyacheslav Nikonov. Institute for Contemporary Development Director Igor Yurgens has lost his preeminent position as Medvedev's "idea man." Some attribute the change to Yurgen's late summer public comparison of Putin to Brezhnev which White House staff confirmed to us was "not appreciated" by the Prime Minister.

A New Party Program

4. (C) We hear that United Russia leaders are hard at work preparing Medvedev's remarks for the United Russia Party Congress which will be in St. Petersburg on November 21. The new concept for the party is "modern conservatism." Modernization is the central theme of Medvedev's presidency, and he has been relying more and more on Surkov, Presidential Advisor Dvorkovich, First Deputy Prime Minister Shuvalov and Deputy Prime Minister Sobyanin for ideas. These advisors are key United Russia Party members and form bridges between Medvedev and Putin and their respective staffs. The new party concept is "We can help Russia move forward by putting Russia's development first." The platform is intended bring the party back to consensus-based governance and help the Russian public forget the contentious election results.

5. (C) United Russia strategist Olga Kryshtanovskaya told us that the dynamics among Kremlin, White House and United Russia officials have taken on greater significance during the preparation of the platforms for the two last major political events of 2009. The overwhelming impression, supported in comments to us from regional political and party leaders, is "United Russia is Putin." It appears that Medvedev is uninterested or unable to put his stamp on the party. Kryshtanovskaya, who has been careful to moderate her MOSCOW 00002779 002 OF 002 public pronouncements on intra-party debates, told us privately that Medvedev's staff (including Surkov) have discussed the idea of Medvedev associating himself with one of the other Kremlin-created parties - perhaps Just Russia. They did not implement the plan, but she conceded that some of Medvedev supporters continue to raise the possibility. Center for Social Policy Director Dmitriy Badovskiy told us the only way Medvedev would align himself with another party would be if there was a complete breakdown of the tandem.

6. (C) The United Russia party congress is also expected to encourage debates between local and regional United Russia officials. For several months party officials, including Kryshtanovskaya, have focused on coaching officials to be able to hold their own in contests with serious debaters from the other parties. Performance in these debates will be another means for United Russia to find local and regional officials who are most capable of winning election for United Russia in future elections. This is all part of the party's attempt to demonstrate greater receptivity to new ideas and help it compete with opposition forces.

7. (C) In his 2008 Poslaniye speech, Medvedev proposed ideas like the creation of a forum for all political parties, including opposition, to meet and exchange ideas. In the year since Medvedev proposed these ideas, United Russia has tightened its grip on power based on its people in government and party positions. In his 2009 Poslaniye speech November 12, Medvedev will play the role of the strategic thinker, outlining Russian long-range goals of modernization, tying in some politics in his annual address. On November 21 Putin will play the role of tactician, speaking of the recovery from the economic crisis and the economic way forward. The new political topics of party congress debates will not matter to Putin's base, who constitute the majority of Russians. They see Medvedev and Putin as the co-leaders, though not co-equals.

8. (C) The Tandem is working even though contrasts between political (and economic) rhetoric and reality exist. Prime Minister Putin, United Russia's leader, cannot credibly claim to have "defeated" the economic crisis, although the Russian economy appears to have bottomed out. Russia's nagging unemployment and wage arrears are still problems. Putin and Medvedev will need to resolve these problems by encouraging economic growth over the next two years in time, hopefully, for the 2012 presidential elections. In their presentations to the nation this week and next, Medvedev and Putin will target their respective bases - urbanites and middle class (perhaps 20 percent of population) and average Russians (80 percent). Elites will debate Medvedev's Poslaniye, especially any proposals to improve the conduct of elections. Far more Russians will pay attention to Putin's United Russia party congress address on meat-and-potato issues. They will forget the tainted elections among Putin's boasts of successfully managing Russia's affairs, demonstrating that United Russia is little more than a constant reminder of Putin's dominant leadership and the overwhelming support he continues to enjoy.

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