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Cablegate: Putin Exudes Leadership During Four Hour Q and A

VZCZCXRO7908
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #2946/01 3381514
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 041514Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5596
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002946

SIPDIS

EO 12958 DECL: 12/04/2018
TAGS PGOV, PREL, PHUM, PINR, ECON, ETRD, KDEM, RS
SUBJECT: PUTIN EXUDES LEADERSHIP DURING FOUR HOUR Q AND A
SESSION

Classified By: DCM Eric S. Rubin; reasons 1.4 (b,d).

1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin displayed thorough knowledge of the issues facing Russia during a live, televised question and answer session which highlighted his role as Russia’s dominant political figure. Most of the questions were focused on the economic situation and socio-economic issues (septel), but Putin also repeated his previous statements on his possible run for President in 2012, and his good relationship with President Dmitriy Medvedev. Putin also touched both sides of the coin on Stalin’s legacy, infuriating some opposition politicians and human rights activists. Putin’s confident performance in front of millions of Russians showcased his image as a practical problem-solver and the tandem leader most in touch with the
Russian people. End Summary.

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Question and Answer Dynamics
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2. (SBU) On December 3 Putin conducted a marathon, four-hour question and answer session during which he answered 80 questions from a variety of formats, including studio audience, telephone, text message, e-mail, and several live video-feeds from across the country. Putin was well prepared for the session, and his spokesman, certainly stretching the truth, stated in the days leading up to the event that Putin had read the “overwhelming majority” of the 700,000 questions received at that point. By the end of the session, Putin received over two million questions.

3. (SBU) Putin appeared comfortable with the event’s format, and demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of statistics in his answers. As he has done in the past, Putin stared straight at the camera, repeated the names of those asking the questions -- some of whom had met the Prime Minister in the past year -- and responded directly to their questions. In typical Putin fashion, he rarely showed any emotion and some of his attempts at dead-pan humor missed the mark. Putin took control of the event towards the conclusion by personally calling on people in the carefully screened studio audience and responding to questions he had reviewed previously. Although some of the questions were not softballs and did not appear to be scripted, Putin was informed of the general topics ahead of time and the locations for the video-feeds.

4. (SBU) Putin personally selected a controversial question about Stalin’s legacy and whether he viewed the former Soviet leader as good or bad. Putin said that Stalin had achieved some positive achievements, such as industrialization, but that the cost was unacceptable and that during Stalin’s reign mass-scale crimes were committed.

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Tandem Politics Show Putin Still on Top
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5. (C) Tandem politics stood out as an important issue when people asked Putin directly about his plans to run for President in 2012 and his relationship with Medvedev. He answered with the same standard notions he has used previously, leaving vague his future plans. Putin responded that he was thinking about running in 2012, but needed to wait to see what the situation in the country would be like in a couple years. He noted that, given the country’s problems, it was better to concentrate on solving them rather than consume energy on an election campaign. Putin said he and Medvedev knew each other well, worked well together, and shared the same principles. Individual experts continue to have varying opinions on the tandem’s presidential aspirations. Longtime Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovskiy stated that Medvedev and Putin’s vague statements about their 2012 intentions served as a way to preserve the tandem’s balance and effectiveness, however, by early 2011 their intentions, according to Pavlovskiy, would become clear.

6. (C) Putin’s excellent performance only added to his cultivated image as Russia’s dominant national leader and the one in control of the tandem. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the event had strengthened Putin’s political leadership and demonstrated who was the country’s practical leader, and who was its theoretical leader. Experts XXXXXXXXXXXX also noted that the event showed Russians who was able to resolve concrete, socio-economic issues, such as pensions, jobs, and housing, and who worked on abstract issues less important to the populace. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that although the event was routine and scripted, it served its purpose by portraying Putin in a positive light. Pavlovskiy called it perhaps the most brilliant performance of Putin’s entire career.

7. (C) In contrast, Communist Party Deputy Chairman Ivan Melnikov told us that the show was nothing more than “psycho-therapy” for a population worried about salaries, pensions and housing, which clearly showed Putin’s interest in reclaiming the presidency. Public Chamber Member Vyacheslav Glazychev, an expert on “mono-gorod” one-industry towns in Russia, called it “a nice public relations event and nothing more.” XXXXXXXXXXXX blasted Putin’s view of Stalin. XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that the Prime Minister should have made a more straight-forward assessment of “one of the most terrible criminals in human history.”

8. (SBU) A pre-event Levada Center poll emphasized that Russians saw Putin as the country’s leader, and his “meat and potatoes” issues as more important. The poll results showed that 28 percent of respondents named Putin as the one who holds power in Russia, while 13 percent said Medvedev. Thirty-eight percent of respondents were likely to watch Putin’s address, whereas 27 percent watched Medvedev’s nationally televised address in November. Forty-three percent of respondents considered Putin’s address to be more important, compared to only 16 percent of Russians who thought Medvedev’s address was more important.

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Comment
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9. (C) Putin’s guarded comments about his participation in the 2012 presidential election have helped him retain his position as the national leader and elite faction mediator. His comments on Stalin’s legacy have infuriated long-standing critics like Gozman, but are extremely unlikely to result in any major, negative backlash at Putin in Russia. At this point, Putin and Medvedev’s recent nationally televised addresses only strengthened the image of a Prime Minister who works on tangible, bread and butter issues, and a President who focuses on big-picture issues and strategic thinking. Beyrle

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