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2006-12-29 09:51:00
Embassy Moscow
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DE RUEHMO #3168/01 3630951
R 290951Z DEC 06
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 013168 



E.O. 12958: N/A




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: While Altai Krai is one of the most economically
depressed regions in Russia, it has an unusually high level of civic
activity and political pluralism and is home to outspoken liberal
Republican Party Head Vladimir Ryzhkov. United Russia dominates,
but the Communists, Agrarians, LDPR, and liberal parties like
Yabloko and Union of Right Forces all have solid voter bases.
Pickets by political parties and civic activists occur regularly,
and grassroots movements ranging from drivers' rights groups to
those protesting monetization reforms spring up quickly. The
governor and regional administration do not greatly interfere in the
activities of political parties, NGOs, or the media. The regional
Human Rights Ombudsman and Public Chamber are active and have the
support of the governor and regional Duma. Although regional
television is government-run, two of the largest and most popular
print and Internet media outlets are staunchly independent. End

United Russia Dominant But Not Domineering

2. (SBU) With 17300 members in the region, 75 local branches, and 48
Molodaya Gvardiya branches, United Russia (YR) is the dominant
political party in the region. Although 27 out of 68 deputies (39
percent) of the Krai Sovet (regional Duma) are YR members, only 2
out of 7 committees are YR-led and the Chairman of the Krai Sovet
Aleksandr Nazarchuk belongs to the Communist, Agrarian, Peoples
Patriotic Union of Russia bloc "For Our Altai." Also, in the last
federal elections in 2003, YR received 29.96 percent of the Altai
Krai vote in comparison to 37.57 percent for Russia as a whole. YR
Executive Committee Head Igor Kokinov explained this by saying that
Altai Krai is a predominantly agricultural region (47 percent of the
population), which tends to still vote for the Communists and
Agrarians. Indeed, the Agrarian Party received 10.5 percent of the
Altai Krai vote compared to 3.64 percent for Russia as a whole.

3. (SBU) YR's main goals are to support implementation of the
national projects and to increase votes for YR in the next election.
Kokinov admitted that if he did not deliver 40 percent of the vote
for YR, he would likely be out o
f his job. He said YR actively
works with 40 social organizations and tries to avoid a "platnaya"
-- paid -- relationship with the press.

-------------- --------------
Yabloko, SPS, Republican Party Small but Tenacious
-------------- --------------

4. (SBU) Yabloko, SPS, and the Republican Party all have active
organizations in Altai Krai, with memberships of 1,000-2,000.
However, the parties seem to be struggling from lack of funding.
All three parties said their electorates were mainly from the
intelligentsia and that it was getting harder to attract the youth
vote. Yabloko Chairman Aleksandr Goncharenko said young people vote
for who is "cool" like LDPR Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovskiy, who
handed out 100 ruble bills during his 2003 campaign stop in the
region. He did not foresee a merger with Yabloko, but could
envision one with the Republican Party if it continued to be denied
registration. He noted that a merger was the only way Altai Krai
State Duma Deputy and Republican Party Head Vladimir Ryzhkov would
be reelected.

5. (SBU) Ryzhkov remains a powerful figure in the region, although
his prospects in the next elections are uncertain if the Republican
Party is not registered. According to Kokinov, Barnaul residents
increasingly appeal to YR for assistance with local problems. He
contended that citizens feel Ryzhkov is more concerned with
maintaining his standing on a national and international level
rather than serving his local constituency. Nevertheless, Ryzhkov
visits the region and frequently speaks at high-profile conferences
and roundtables organized by his School of Civic Education and the
former Open Russia branch (now called Open Altai).

Just Russia Still Finding Its Legs

6. (SBU) PolOff met with Andrey Lyapunov and Andrey Igoshin, former
regional chairmen of Rodina and Party of Life, and now deputy
chairman and chairman of "Just Russia," respectively. Just Russia
recently held its merger conference on December 2, and it was
obvious the process of consolidating the three parties has not been
easy. The tension in the room between the two former party heads
was palpable and on occasion they openly disagreed with each other
on party issues. According to Goncharenko, Lyapunov has reason to
be resentful since he has had a long political career, while Igoshin
purportedly "bought" his seat in Party of Life.

7. (SBU) Igoshin estimated that Just Russia had about 8000 members

MOSCOW 00013168 002 OF 004

in the region, with an additional 1000-1500 still to be added to the
rolls. The youth organizations of the three parties were also still
in the merger process. Just Russia held three public "actions"
since December 2 to raise awareness of the new party and is planning
another before the new year to "constructively criticize" the
authorities' inability to clear the streets of snow.

8. (SBU) Lyapunov estimated that Just Russia would get 25 percent of
the vote in the next elections. He said the Communist and Agrarian
parties were stuck in the past and the younger generation was losing
interest in them, while YR stood for the federal and regional
governments which had "forgotten the people." Just Russia is
positioning itself between the two blocs. It stresses social issues
and will lobby for increased federal funds and investment in the

-------------- ---
Communists, Agrarians, LDPR Strong in Altai Krai
-------------- ---

9. (SBU) The Communists, Agrarians, and LDPR are strong in the
region, although they are losing voters to YR and Just Russia. In
the March 2004 regional elections, the For Our Altai bloc received
26.88 percent of the vote to YR's 24.43 percent. LDPR received
almost 11 percent, although many interlocutors attribute that to
Zhirinovsky's last minute campaign tour of the region and the
"buying" of votes.

10. (SBU) Communist Party Secretary Petr Ponarin said YR's close
association with the agricultural national project has the potential
to siphon votes away from the Communists and Agrarians in the next
elections. However, Ponarin believed that YR is not delivering
agricultural or other social welfare funds fast enough to make a
large impact and the rural population will turn on YR. He said the
relationship between the Communists and YR resembles that between
the "reds and the whites" at the beginning of the twentieth century,
i.e., between the Communists and the party in power.

Civil Society Unusually Active

11. (U) Pickets, demonstrations, and protests occur with uncommon
frequency in Altai Krai. In the past year, there have been major
protests with the participation of multiple political parties over
monetization, benefits for mothers with many children, drivers'
rights, wage arrears, and the proposed pipeline near Lake Baikal,
among others. Other smaller pickets happen on a nearly daily basis
over issues like lack of snow removal and rallying for a Stalin
monument in Barnaul.

12. (U) The hottest issue for all political parties -- from the
Communists to Yabloko -- we discovered during a recent trip to
Barnaul was the recent decision by Governor Aleksandr Karlin to
forbid all demonstrations, except ceremonial ones like May Day, on
the city's Central Square. His reasoning, which was met with
widespread ridicule, was that large demonstrations caused damaged to
the statue of Lenin. The Communists and Union of Right Forces (SPS)
jointly sued the administration (and held joint pickets) over the
issue, which is now awaiting a hearing in the Supreme Court.

-------------- -------------- --------------
Current Administration Progressive or At Least Permissive
-------------- -------------- --------------

13. (SBU) Notwithstanding the Central Square/Lenin statue
controversy, party representatives that we spoke with were unanimous
that Karlin was an improvement over his predecessor Mikhail
Yevdokimov. Yevdokimov, a former actor called the "Siberian
Schwarzenegger," had great popular support when elected, although he
was not the Putin-supported candidate. According to Yabloko
Chairman Goncharenko, Putin was reportedly furious that his
candidate was not elected and, in part, because of this election,
Putin supported a motion to have governors appointed. However,
Yevdokimov was by most accounts not an effective governor and after
his premature death in a car accident, Putin appointed Karlin.
Karlin has managed to have a special tourist zone established in the
region and Altai Krai is one of the four regions where casinos will
be permitted. According to regional SPS head Vladimir Nebalzin, the
governor concentrates on strategic regional issues and does not
interfere greatly with civil society. The controversy over
demonstrations in the square was typical of the governor, who does
not always seem to give full consideration to decisions he makes.

14. (SBU) Altai Krai's Public Chamber, consisting of 45 members, has
been in existence since May 2006. According to Head of the Public
Chamber Apparatus Vladilen Volkov, the Public Chamber is attempting
to play a role similar to the federal Public Chamber. Volkov termed

MOSCOW 00013168 003 OF 004

the selection process of the 45 members one of the most democratic
that had taken place among the approximately 30 regional Public
Chambers. The 2000 registered social organizations in the region
sent 150 delegates a congress. At the congress 30 of their number
were elected to the Chamber. Municipality administrations elected
the remaining 15 at another congress. It was too soon to tell how
much of an impact the Public Chamber will have in the region, Volkov

15. (SBU) Altai Krai's Human Rights Ombudsman Yuriy Visloguzov
claimed in a conversation with us that he has both budgetary and
functional autonomy. There is a separate line item in the regional
budget just for his office and he has full control over how and what
to spend it on. Last year his budget was USD 150,000, and for 2007
it has increased to USD 207,000. In addition, in January a
Childrens Rights Ombudsman will be created to oversee the pressing
regional issues of education, orphanages, and poverty.

-------------- -
However, City and Region Struggle Economically
-------------- -

16. (SBU) Despite these positive elements, it is obvious that the
city and region are struggling economically. According to
Co-Chairman of the Republican Party Andrey Olishevskiy, Altai Krai
has the lowest per capita income in the Siberian region. Snow
removal is barely evident in Barnaul, leading to fender benders at
almost every intersection. In Barnaul, political parties frequently
participate in "subbotniks" (community clean-ups) at the request of
the mayor. Each party has adopted a square or monument to maintain.

17. (SBU) The region, which was heavily dependent on agriculture and
military factories during the Soviet period, has not been able to
compete on the Russian or global markets due to its outdated
equipment and practices. Interlocutors told us that even if there
is corruption or inefficient management, the special tourist and
casino zones provide the best hope for increased employment,
revenues, and investment in the region.

Some Media Staunchly Independent

18. (SBU) Although most regional television stations and newspapers
in Altai Krai are either government-owned or influenced, there are
at least two media outlets that claim to be staunchly independent.
The Internet news site BankFax ( -- one of the most
frequented news sites in the Siberian region with about 200,000
visits per month -- is one of them. Headed by Valeriy Savinkov
since 1993, its readers reportedly include high-ranking
administration members, academics, politicians, students, and major
business leaders. The site positions itself as non-partisan and has
covered controversial subjects.

19. (SBU) There have been two attempts to shut down the site by the
authorities (BankFax won both in court). In one instance, according
to an interview with Vladimir Ryzhkov, authorities reacted to the
site's refusal to fall in line with a campaign to discredit him
during the last elections. In a second, the authorities objected to
the site's publication of commentary on the Prophet Mohammed
caricature scandal and charged the site according to Article 282 of
the Criminal Code -- incitement of ethnic, racial, or religious
hatred or enmity. According to Savinkov, there have also been
inconclusive searches of BankFax's offices by the security services,
for example, on the basis of an anonymous tip that they were
printing counterfeit U.S. dollars on the premises. In January, the
site plans to move its servers to Arizona in order to be less
vulnerable to interference by Russian authorities.

20. (SBU) Altapress is the other regional media outlet which claims
to be independent. In a professionally-done, English-language
powerpoint presentation prepared by the group and given to Poloff
during the December 20-22 visit, Altapress noted that it published
the region's first independent newspaper in 1990 (the weekly
"Svobodniy Kurs") and has grown into a 1000-person strong company
since then. Currently publishing 11 newspapers and magazines with a
weekly circulation of 240,000, Altapress owns its own printing
presses, distribution network, and 300 sales outlets. It also
prints 45 newspapers for clients from Kazakhstan, Novosibirsk, and
other cities in the region. According to Altapress CEO Yuriy Purgin,
the company's Internet site ( is the second or
third most frequented in the Siberian region. Altapress also
inaugurated a new radio station Radio-22 on December 22, with plans
to expand into television and/or Internet television.

21. (SBU) According to the presentation, the company is "vertically
integrated purposefully to maintain its independence from
authorities, political parties, and oligarchs" and "does not have

MOSCOW 00013168 004 OF 004

authorities or oligarchs among its shareholders." Purgin was
particularly proud of Altapress's social projects: the School of
Practical Journalism, in which Altapress managers teach 150-200
university journalism students basic ethics and professional skills,
and the Newspaper in Education Project, which uses the Svobodniy
Kurs newspaper in high schools to teach critical thinking and social
studies by analyzing and discussing articles and current events.
Director of the Moscow-based Center for Extreme Journalism Oleg
Panfilov has chosen Altapress as a regional partner (in addition to
Open Altai) in the Center's new program "Frontline Russia," a joint
effort of Panfilov's Center, Internews Russia, and the London-based
Frontline Club. The program shows journalism-related documentary
films and conducts panel discussions afterward. Topics include war
photography and coverage of Islam.

22. (SBU) Our interlocutors offered differing explanations of why
Altai Krai tends to be more socially active and politically diverse
than other regions. Some attributed it to the historical influence
of trade unions and a strong tradition of populist Communism in the
region, which has ingrained a willingness to take to the streets in
citizens young and old. Most agree that the social activism is not
necessarily liberal in character and has more to do with the fact
that the population has achieved success with demonstrations in the
past and feels confident that it will be heard by the
administration, media, and political parties when it protests.