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07MOSCOW4542 2007-09-16 17:36:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
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1. (C) The surprise appointment of First Deputy Minister of
Finance Viktor Zubkov has intensified speculation about
succession. In the absence of authoritative information
about President Putin's intentions, much of what we hear is
wildly speculative, and ranges from Putin returning to office
after a brief Zubkov presidency to the familiar scenarios
that have First Deputy Prime Ministers Ivanov or Medvedev
taking office. With this week's developments, however,
Ivanov and Medvedev, have moved to the sidelines, and Zubkov
is the key figure in everyone's succession calculus. A few of
the scenarios making the rounds prior to Putin's September 13
comments at the "Valdai" gathering of foreign policy analysts
and journalists in Sochi are offered below. End summary.

2. (C) The surprise appointment of First Deputy Minister of
Finance Viktor Zubkov to succeed Mikhail Fradkov as Prime
Minister has been widely seen to be a piece of the succession
jigsaw puzzle, but there appears to be little agreement among
observers about where that piece fits. In comments made to
journalists during a visit to Belgorod September 13,
President Putin shed some light on the intentions behind his
appointment of Zubkov. Putin described his decision to
replace Fradkov as the product of a desire to indicate "the
vector of development, and fashion the system of
administrative and executive power" beyond the December Duma
and March 2008 presidential elections. (Putin's subsequent
comments on September 13 to a group of international
journalists and policy makers, intimating a presidential race
with four or five serious candidates, Zubkov included, will
be reported septel.)

3. (C) Putin's comments seemed to confirm the assumptions of
some here that any new PM would provide continuity between
administrations. Renaissance Capital Executive Vice President
Igor Yurgens seconded Putin's comments in a September 14
conversation with us, describing Zubkov as "one hundred
percent continuity." He characterized the new Prime Minister
as "very close to Putin and very trustworthy." Yurgens, who
had worked with Zubkov in correcting problems in the
insurance industry, pegged him as "one hundred percent
neutral, straightforward, honest, and not in competition with
any of the clans." It was Yurgens' impression that Zubkov, as
Chairman of the Financial Monitoring Committee, "had files,"
but did not use them to shake down businessmen, as was the
case with the Tax Inspectorate.

4. (C) Yurgens sketched a scenario that had Zubkov as the
next president, with Putin in the wings, and First Deputy
Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev the prime minister.
Medvedev, he noted parenthetically, was well equipped
"organizationally and intellectually" for the job. Putin's
continued, post-2008 relevance was, according to Yurgens,
necessary to the continuation of the system the President had
constructed. In the absence of institutions and "consensual
control of the clans," Putin was fated to be a hands-on
ex-President. His complete departure from government would
mean that "the stronger side would win," and "stronger is not
necessarily better."

5. (C) Jurgens' predictions were not, of course, seconded by
other observers. The Gorbachev Foundation's Valeriy Solovey
forecast to us September 13 a "real" presidential election
contest. The result, Solovey thought, could well be a Sergey
Ivanov presidency. With no clan support, Ivanov would be a
weak chief executive under the influence of powerful
magnates, however. Solovey discounted the possibility that
Medvedev would become president, pegging his falling star to
lack of elite support. Political observer Mikhail Delyagin
agreed with Solovey September 13 that Putin would go and
likely be replaced by Ivanov or, perhaps, First Deputy Prime
Minister Naryshkin. Delyagin thought it less likely, but not
impossible, that Zubkov would follow Putin into the
presidency, then step aside a few months later to let Putin

6. (C) political commentator Dmitriy Badkovskiy
told us that Zubkov's appointment had reduced the number of
possible "operation successor scenarios," e.g., eliminating
in his view the possibility that the presidential successor
would first be appointed prime minister, but had left the
fundamental question --who will succeed Putin-- unanswered.
Badovskiy described Putin's decision as predictable, as it
preserved the President's influence while appearing to move
the succession process forward. Badovskiy believed that
Zubkov's appointment was a detour on the way to a more

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predictable scenario, which would have Putin, at some point
in the fall, make his preferences known. The succession
process required that the heir-apparent be frequently in the
public eye, Badkovsky said. And that requirement ultimately
would force Putin to show his hand.

7. (C) The leader of the International Eurasian Movement
Aleksandr Dugin told us September 13 that, whoever the
successor, the primary task is to ensure Putin's legacy. The
appointment of Zubkov, Dugin thought was timed in part to
unsettle a fractious elite. The appointment of Ivanov,
instead of Zubkov would have hardened factions among the
elite and, possibly, precipitated a crisis. Putin's decision
"had not solved the problem, but it had postponed the
solution" which, if announced too early would have created
further problems of its own.



8. (C) The number of scenarios is limited only by the
imagination of the person who spins them and the credibility
of his audience. With his Belgorod comments, Putin has
signalled a desire for continuity in government, and seems to
have anointed Zubkov the agent of that continuity. Whether
Zubkov will provide that service as Prime Minister, or at
some point be chosen to succeed Putin, is impossible to say.
Zubkov's ability to loyally continue what Putin sees as the
"vector of development" he has chosen for Russia, may give
new meaning to the President's stated desire, expressed
almost one year ago, to "remain influential in (Russian)
politics" after his term of office ends.