PP RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #0153/01 0221218
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221218Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6229
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
1. (SBU) Summary: Freemason Grand Master and leader of the Democratic Party of Russia, Andrey Bogdanov expects to make the presidential ballot despite the party's infinitesimal showing in the December Duma elections and lack of any public appeal or party machinery that would suggest how he collected the requisite two million signatures in support of his race. Political analysts insist that Bogdanov is a Kremlin "project" and a hedge against the possibility that both Communist Party leader Zyugonov and LDPR's Zhirinovskiy could abruptly withdraw from the race. Such a scenario, in the event of former PM Kasyanov's increasingly likely disqualification, would leave Putin's heir, First Deputy PM Medvedev, without a constitutionally required opponent. Bogdanov told us that he is running in order to cement his reputation as the last democratic opposition leader standing, but his personal dislike of Kasyanov (who allegedly backed out of a deal to buy DPR) and willingness to accuse the former Prime Minister of corruption in the petition gathering process makes him a handy foil. The CEC will rule on both Bogdanov and Kasyanov's candidacy by January 26. End Summary.
Candidate Voted Least Likely to Succeed
2. (SBU) The 38-year old Andrey Bogdanov is an unlikely presidential candidate, whose shoulder length curly mane, slightly swarthy appearance, and infamy as Grand Master of the Freemason's Grand Lodge of Russia overshadow his career as a "political technologist," one-time adviser to United Russia, and longtime associate of the Democratic Party of Russia. In a January 17 meeting at a large, tastefully furnished, but funereally quiet DPR headquarters -- which happens to abut the ruling United Russia's Moscow regional office -- Bogdanov dated his political activism back to 1990, when he circulated leaflets in support of Boris Yeltsin. Bogdanov took aim at the failure of rival democratic opposition leaders to unite, as well as their predilection to treat political parties as vehicles for their political vanity. Arguing that "no other rightist party can boast of a leader like me," Bogdanov stressed that he had come up through the ranks, reflecting DPR's respect for the "succession" principle of growing its leadership from the youth wing. The fact that he had never served as an "A-level" Russian government official (in contrast to Yabloko's Yavlinsky, SPS's Gaidar and Chubais, and former PM Kasyanov), Bogdanov considered a plus in terms of his long-term political prospects, since he did not bear responsibility for the reviled 1990's.
3. (SBU) Describing himself as a political realist, Bogdanov said he did not expect Russia to have a democratic president within the next ten years, given the continuing fight over the division and re-division of state spoils among the elite; instead, DPR would play by the rulebook, with his presidential bid a means of attracting greater public attention to the party, at a time when traditional opposition parties were on the verge of extinction. "All other rightist parties have ceased to meet the democratic demands of the people." Shrugging off DPR's last-place showing in the December Duma elections (where it received an almost imperceptible .1 percent of the vote), Bogdanov said his goal was to secure three percent in the presidential race, which would help in writing-off the party's seven million ruble debt for the television airtime it received during the parliamentary elections (and, with its less than three percent showing, must now reimburse). In order not to further burden the party's coffers, Bogdanov decided to run as an independent candidate. Bogdanov described the process of collecting the requisite two million signatures to qualify as an independent as easy, but side-stepped any discussion of the mechanics. (Note: Neither we nor political analysts with whom we spoke had seen any evidence of a petition collection drive, which Kasyanov's aides and former SPS contender Boris Nemtsov had described as particularly difficult given the extended Christmas-New Year-Orthodox Christmas holiday period.) Bogdanov readily conceded that few Russians were ready for a Grand Master as president, but was forthright about his convictions and dispensed both DPR and Freemason calling cards. He'll attend a Freemason convention in Kentucky this February.
4. (SBU) Bogdanov did not hesitate to declare himself an opponent of Putin (something official opposition parties such as Just Russia and LDPR eschew), and stressed DPR's rejection of Russia's current foreign policy course, with DPR advocating a European agenda and Russian membership in the EU. Noting his one year of service as the ruling party's head of public relations, Bogdanov said he was fired by United Russia for introducing successful door-to-door membership drives in Krasnoyarsk, rather than relying on administrative resources to more predictably lock-in the collective votes of factories, universities, and other state-influenced bodies. Bogdanov avoided discussing his current ties to the Kremlin or whether -- as critics charge -- he has an "understanding" over his role in this election cycle. Bogdanov implied that DPR faced less official opposition since it was not a "street" party and eschewed revolutions of any color. The Russian populace had endured too much
MOSCOW 00000153 002 OF 002
hardship and upheaval, and none of Russia's revolutions had had changed people's lives for the better. Ideologically, Bogdanov described DPR as more conservative -- or neo-conservative -- in social values than liberal. For example, while DPR members would not condemn homosexuals, no party member would ever participate in or condone gay parades.
A Spare to the Kremlin's Heir
5. (SBU) Political analysts, civil society activists, and newspaper editors with whom we spoke dismiss Bogdanov out of hand as a Kremlin project, alternately designed to "foil" the slight prospects of former PM Kasyanov or serve as a far-sighted hedge against the unlikely decision of both Communist Party leader Zyuganov and LDPR's Zhirinovskiy to withdraw from contention. In the event of Kasyanov's increasingly likely disqualification from the race, this scenario would leave Medvedev unopposed, against a constitutional requirement for two candidates. The Kremlin-connected Center for Political Technology Deputy Director Makarenko is among those who have speculated publicly that Bogdanov fills the role played by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov in 2004, describing him as a "purely technical figure - a safeguard against any potential blackmail attempts by Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, who might threaten to invalidate the election by withdrawing."
6. (SBU) Bogdanov made clear his personal dislike for Kasyanov, which he attributed to the former Prime Minister's failed effort to highjack DPR at the party convention as the vehicle for his presidential campaign. Other well-placed political insiders argue that Kasyanov walked back an agreement to purchase DPR's "brand" from Bogdanov for two million usd, presumably after the imposition of some unpalatable political conditions. Bogdanov has led the charge in seeking Kasyanov's disqualification from the race, submitting disks of signatures to the CEC that were downloaded from public records available on the internet, and which he maintains match portions of those signature lists submitted by the Kasyanov campaign. The CEC has raised concerns that it has with Kasyanov's petition, and Kasyanov petition gatherers face criminal charges in two regions for filing false names. (The difficulty in gathering signatures and the likelihood of paid party activists taking short-cuts has provided the CEC with a flexible instrument for weeding out both political parties and candidates on legal grounds.)
7. (SBU) Suspicions are necessarily raised when a relative political unknown with enormous political liabilities such as Bogdanov remains a potential contender in this presidential race, at a time when far better known and more electorally proven politicians have been sidelined, de-registered, and pushed off of national television. Bogdanov will be nothing more than a footnote to the 2008 presidential campaign, regardless of whether he is registered as a candidate, but is testament to the cynical calculations that have undergird every aspect of this electoral process.