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Viewing cable 08MOSCOW1215, MORE FROM THE RUMOR MILL: READING PUTIN'S

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MOSCOW1215 2008-04-30 14:02 2010-12-01 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
Appears in these articles:
http://www.spiegel.de/
VZCZCXRO2125
RR RUEHBW
DE RUEHMO #1215/01 1211414
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301414Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7874
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 001215

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/29/2018
TAGS: PGOV PINR ECON RS
SUBJECT: MORE FROM THE RUMOR MILL: READING PUTIN'S
PRE-INAUGURATION SIGNALS

REF: MOSCOW 1187 AND PREVIOUS 

Classified By: CDA Daniel Russell: Reasons 1.4 (b, d).

1. (C) Summary: Among some Kremlin-critics and
establishment figures, speculation has grown over the past
month that Putin and his entourage may be laying the
groundwork for a return to the Kremlin, rather than
safe-guarding the transition of President-elect Medvedev.
While our contacts speculate that Putin has kept his
political options open, some point to his self-conceived
"historic mission" to return Russia to its former glory,
concerns over a rapacious and self-devouring elite, and
distrust of Medvedev's long-term ambitions as fueling recent
maneuvers to further entrench the out-going president's
powers. Acknowledging Medvedev's personal loyalty to Putin,
observers point to competition among staff and rumors over
Mrs. Medvedev's ambitions for her husband. Rumors
notwithstanding, little of this speculation has a factual
underpinning, but it does reflect continual nervousness among
the elite about Putin's intentions and the fate of the
tandemocracy. Putin's intentions and actions have rarely (if
ever) been correctly forecast over the past year by Moscow's
political elite. End Summary

Putin: Once and Future President?
---------------------------------

2. (C) Some Moscow politicians and Kremlin watchers are
reading post-electoral and pre-inaugural political maneuvers
(ref a) as signs of the possibility that Putin could return
to the Kremlin, either at the end of Medvedev's term or -- in
the event of underperformance or disloyalty -- before. As
Kremlin opponent xxxxx told the Ambassador, Putin's
continued domination of political life, the focus on his
transition to the White House (rather than on Medvedev's
shift to Putin's Kremlin office), the possible creation of a
Cabinet-like host of Deputy Prime Ministers, and Putin's
decision to take up leadership of the ruling party, has
fueled theories that Putin could be keeping his options open
to return as President. Putin's  xxxxx and
others have stressed, is how to override the political
predisposition that leads Russians to look to the Kremlin
(whether to the Tsar or the General Secretary) for authority.
As president, xxxxx argued, Medvedev's stature will be
enhanced both constitutionally and psychologically.

3. (C) Acknowledging today's shift in political speculation
away from the hypothesis that Putin would serve a limited
period as Prime Minister in order to safeguard Medvedev's
transition, prominent xxxxx
argued that Putin's decision to lead United Russia was about
protecting his own interests, and not those of Medvedev.
Absent a pre-existing gentleman's agreement with the
President-elect, xxxxx characterized Putin's choreography
of the last several weeks as a "humiliation" of his
successor. xxxxx 
told us that, based on blowback from Kremlin ideological guru
Vladislav Surkov over critical xxxxx articles, it was clear to
him that "Putin wants to be the leading guy." As an example
of Kremlin sensitivities, xxxxx pointed to Surkov's quick
intervention in the wake of an NG article that described
Medvedev's prospective rule as a period of liberal thaw.
Because the term "thaw" connotes Khrushchev's initial reign,
xxxxx noted, it begged the question of "who was Stalin"
and implied that change was needed, rather than the
continuation of Putin's course.

Putin's Historic Mission, Internecine Clans
-------------------------------------------

4. (C) Pointing to Putin's sense of historical mission in
returning Russia to its previous world power status, analysts
tell us that intra-elite divisions remain too poisonous and
the prospect for elite conflict too great for Putin to remove
himself from a power construct that he (and not a system of
checks and balances) polices. xxxxx who also serves on
Medvedev's think tank, questioned why Putin sought
"dictatorial powers" over the party, given his preexisting de
facto command of United Russia. His decision was "alarming,"
xxxxx claimed, because it demonstrated the uncertainty
that exists in Putin's entourage over the political
transition, despite the fact that "all executive powers will
be shared between Putin and Medvedev" and the government
machinery will be "as focused on Putin, if not more."
xxxxx separately suggested that Putin's party leadership
was an additional layer of protection should Medvedev become
too confident with the presidential perquisites and seek to
modify Putin's imprimatur.

Moscow 00001215 002 of 003



5. (C) As a long-time advocate of a third presidential term
for Putin, xxxxx editor xxxxx told us
that Putin had been hemmed in by his desire for international
legitimacy, even though amending the Russian constitution to
remove term limits would have been "easy and understandable
in the context of Russia's stage of political development."
xxxxx speculated that the de facto rejiggering of power
between the Kremlin and White House was awkward, but
necessary, given Putin's self-imposed requirement of
respecting the Russian constitution. While xxxxx argued
that the concentration of power was a "temporary phase" in a
"long, very long" evolution to more democratic institutions,
liberal critics like former Duma deputy xxxxx see
the accumulation of power -- with Putin in "de facto and de
jure control over the club of the top administrative and
economic nomenclature" -- as an end in itself. As xxxxx
noted, the flurry of presidential orders shifting Kremlin
staff to White House positions in advance of Putin becoming
Prime Minister on May 8 were an interesting reflection of
Putin's mentality: rather than have "little Dima" sign the
presidential decrees authorizing the transfer of cadre, Putin
continued to dictate the terms of his premier-ship, revealing
how lopsided this partnership will be at the outset.

6. (C) Amidst the political uncertainty, the idea of Russia
evolving into a parliamentary republic is batted around, but
mostly batted down. While both xxxxx and RAO UES and SPS
opposition party deputy xxxxx were at a loss to
explain Putin's decision to head United Russia absent a
strategy based on constitutionally reconfiguring Russia's
political system, each conceded Putin's public opposition to
the idea. Given Putin's domination of politics since
Medvedev's March 2 electoral win, many viewed his comments at
the one-year memorial of former President Yeltsin's death,
that the presidency would "continue to serve the Russian
people and protect (Russia's) sovereign interests," as
significant. xxxxx confirmed to us that during the course
of his xxxxx with Medvedev,
the President-elect was insistent that Russia required a
presidential system and dismissive of public speculation over
the "tandem."

7. (C) xxxxx while discounting the role of opposition
parties at present, warned against GOR policies that created
competition between bureaucrats rather than parties. While
Russia was not a democracy, xxxxx maintained that it was
on a path that could lead to democracy, but only if more
pluralism was built into the system. The problem with the
ruling party's self-conscious imitation of Japan's Liberal
Democratic Party, with its creation of "clubs," he stressed,
was that United Russia lacked intra-party ideological
coherence and competition. At the end of the day, it would
not matter what liberal United Russia Duma deputy Pligin
thought, but rather how the Kremlin told him to vote that
would determine the outcome of any Duma contest. The
challenge for Medvedev, xxxxx posited, will be to
reintroduce faith in the system among middle class voters,
who stayed home or spoiled their ballot, that their voice
matters. It is that portion of the electorate, xxxxx
stressed, that the government will need to rely upon for
support for economic modernization.

Staff and Spousal Ambitions
---------------------------

8. (C) The maneuvering begs the question of what Putin and
his entourage could possibly fear in the reflexively loyal
Medvedev. Ekspert magazine speculated that the mere
formation of an economic think-tank (ref b) by the
President-elect had been enough to raise concerns of a rival
team and vision. When asked, xxxxx did not dispute the
analysis, acknowledging that between the outgoing and
incoming presidents' staff there were elements of
competition. Even on minor issues, such as extending press
invitations for the inauguration, xxxxx said that
confusion over lines of authority had led to delay. United
Russia Duma deputy and Kremlin spin-doctor Sergey Markov
admitted to us that the transition had produced legislative
and political paralysis, with everyone "waiting for
directions" on how to work with the tandem.

9. (C) The role of Medvedev's wife, Svetlana, in generating
tensions between the camps remains the subject of avid
gossip. xxxxx hinting at Svetlana's reputation for
aggressive social climbing, xxxxx was less discrete, calling her a "stupid and
ambitious" woman, who purportedly had already drawn up a list
of officials who should "suffer" for their betrayal of

Moscow 00001215 003 of 003


Medvedev when First Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov was
ascendant.

Comment
-------

10. (C) In the absence of facts, speculation is driving
Moscow political currents. While it will be months before we
get a better sense of the division of labor between Medvedev
and Putin, the sense here is that the pre-inaugural
atmospherics have diminished, rather than buttressed
Medvedev's political stature and fueled nervousness among
Moscow's hyper-sensitive political elite as to whether the
succession question has been definitively resolved. Putin
has been master of the political surprise over the past year
and consistently bamboozled the chattering class and pundits
as to his long-term intentions.
Russell