Keep Us Strong WikiLeaks logo

Currently released so far... 1295 / 251,287


Browse latest releases

Browse by creation date

Browse by origin


Browse by tag


Browse by classification

Community resources

courage is contagious


If you are new to these pages, please read an introduction on the structure of a cable as well as how to discuss them with others. See also the FAQs

Understanding cables
Every cable message consists of three parts:
  • The top box shows each cables unique reference number, when and by whom it originally was sent, and what its initial classification was.
  • The middle box contains the header information that is associated with the cable. It includes information about the receiver(s) as well as a general subject.
  • The bottom box presents the body of the cable. The opening can contain a more specific subject, references to other cables (browse by origin to find them) or additional comment. This is followed by the main contents of the cable: a summary, a collection of specific topics and a comment section.
To understand the justification used for the classification of each cable, please use this WikiSource article as reference.

Discussing cables
If you find meaningful or important information in a cable, please link directly to its unique reference number. Linking to a specific paragraph in the body of a cable is also possible by copying the appropriate link (to be found at theparagraph symbol). Please mark messages for social networking services like Twitter with the hash tags #cablegate and a hash containing the reference ID e.g. #06MOSCOW5740.
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW5740 2006-05-31 13:01 2010-12-01 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
DE RUEHMO #5740/01 1511315
R 311315Z MAY 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 MOSCOW 005740 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2016 

REF: A. 2005 MOSCOW 14734 
B. MOSCOW 5000 
C. MOSCOW 3335 

Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs Kirk Augustine. 
Reasons: 1.4 (B/D). 

1. (C) SUMMARY. Adding fuel to already intense speculation 
about who will succeed him, President Putin confirmed to 
state media May 13 that he will endorse a candidate before 
the March 2008 election. Both Kremlin-connected and 
independent analysts believe Putin's choice will be driven by 
a desire to ensure his physical and financial security, to 
maximize the likelihood of continuity in his policies, and to 
preserve the current political system, in which he is the 
final arbiter of disputes among rival groups (a role he 
likely intends to play even after leaving office). Our 
contacts generally think Putin will consult about possible 
successors with his closest advisers but make the final 
decision alone, without involving elites outside the Kremlin 
or relying heavily on public opinion surveys, as former 
President Boris Yeltsin did. The conventional wisdom remains 
that First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev and Deputy 
Prime Minister/Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov are the two 
front-runners, but other horses of varying shades of darkness 
are believed to be at least potentially in the running. 
Putin's interest lies in prolonging uncertainty to avoid a 
premature slippage of power away from him and toward a 
perceived successor, but that uncertainty encourages 
competitive jockeying for position among the candidates and a 
feeding-frenzy among those who fear their snouts could soon 
be torn from the trough. END SUMMARY. 

2. (C) Most of our contacts take for granted that Putin's 
own physical and financial security and social status 
post-2008 loom large in his succession calculations. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that financial 
considerations would drive Putin's thinking. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX  agreed, describing  the Russian
presidency as a business and saying that Putin's  decision
on a successor would be based on his sense of who  would
best be able to protect the wealth he and his  associates
had acquired. Equally important to Putin,  according to
XXXXXXXXXXXX, is preserving the elite-based political
system in which ad hoc interest groups vie for political
clout and  control over economic resources, with Putin as the
ultimate  arbiter. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Putin feared the
system would  collapse without him at its center, and therefore
intended to remain active behind the scenes while leaving
day-to-day  governance to his successor. XXXXXXXXXXXX
agreed, saying that preserving the current balance of power
among competing elite  groups was of great importance to Putin. 

3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX  told us that Putin needs to choose a 
strong successor who is not beholden to any one group and who 
has already amassed a personal fortune during Putin's tenure. 
Such a figure, XXXXXXXXXXXX explained, would have a vested 
interest in maintaining the status quo in order to protect 
his own wealth and standing. XXXXXXXXXXXX disagreed,
arguing  that a strong successor would inevitably side with
one group  or another, and succumb to the temptation to crush
his  rivals. Such a turn of events would not only disrupt the 
precarious balance of clans and lead to a redistribution of 
assets, but also undermine Putin's role as arbiter of the 
competing groups. XXXXXXXXXXXX offered another 
perspective, saying that a succession candidate's "strength" 
or "weakness" would be of only secondary interest to Putin; 
the overriding criterion would be loyalty to Putin personally. 

4. (C) Many of our contacts believe that, having weakened 
all his potential rivals and atomized the elite, Putin will 
be able to make the choice of his successor alone, without 
needing to consult extensively with political and economic 
elites to ensure their support. XXXXXXXXXXXX expects
Putin to discuss the issue informally with his closest advisers,
but to reveal his final decision to them only shortly before
going public, in order to maintain strict secrecy. The broader
elite and the general public would learn of Putin's decision 
simultaneously. XXXXXXXXXXXX concurred, saying Putin
would consult only a handful of close advisers, including
Medvedev,  Sergey Ivanov, and Deputy PA head Igor Sechin.
XXXXXXXXXXXX  expected that on questions of succession,
Sechin's opinion  would carry more weight than Medvedev's or
Ivanov's, because  Putin would consider that as possible
successors, the latter  two could not give disinterested advice. 

5. (C) Asked whether Putin, by not consulting more broadly, 
would not risk alienating those whose financial resources and 
media outlets would be central to ensuring a smooth 
succession, XXXXXXXXXXXX predicted that the elites, on
hearing  the name of Putin's preferred successor, would fight
each  other to be first to pledge allegiance to his choice. If 
elite opinion mattered to Putin, XXXXXXXXXXXX added
pointedly,  former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskiy would
still be free.  Instead, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, Putin was confident
elites have  learned from the Khodorkovskiy case the severe 
consequences  of defying the Kremlin. XXXXXXXXXXXX
agreed, saying that despite  real divisions within the elite, there
remains a profound  corporate interest in maintaining the existing
contours of political and economic power, and that can best be
done by  falling in line behind Putin's choice, whoever it may be. 

6. (C) Given how extensively former President Yeltsin's team 
used public opinion polls to identify an electable successor, 
many have assumed Putin would do the same.
XXXXXXXXXXXX, however, told us the Kremlin would 
not poll to determine what  qualities the public wants to see in
Russia's next president,  since the results would be meaningless:
respondents in such a  poll would simply describe Putin when
asked what their ideal  president would be like -- reversing the
pattern from 1999, when respondents listed as desirable qualities
those that the deeply unpopular Yeltsin lacked
 XXXXXXXXXXXX also argued that the Kremlin's control over
major media outlets would not be sufficient in itself to build a
mass following for a  presidential candidate -- the key to
winning public support  would be to find a way to "resonate
with the public," as  Putin did when he gave an emotional speech
in September 1999 in response to a series of apartment bombings
that had  terrorized the population. Until that point,
XXXXXXXXXXXX said,  even daily television coverage had
only modestly improved  Putin's popularity rating. 

arguing that the  Kremlin has sufficient administrative and media
resources to  ensure that the public votes "correctly" in 2008.
Taking a  different tack, XXXXXXXXXXXX told us public opinion
could be an  important variable if the electorate were actively engaged, 
but he did not expect it to be mobilized for this election. 
Voters -- like the elites -- would primarily be interested, 
XXXXXXXXXXXX thought, in maintaining the higher standard of
living  they have attained under Putin, and would see Putin's chosen 
successor as the best available insurance policy. 


8. (C) Upwards of thirty names have appeared in the Russian 
press as possible successors to Putin, but XXXXXXXXXXXX 
told us she believes Putin has now narrowed the field to 
five: First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev, Deputy 
Prime Minister/Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov, Presidential 
Administration (PA) head Sergey Sobyanin, Russian Railways 
CEO Vladimir Yakunin, and head of the Government apparatus 
Sergey Naryshkin. Nearly all analysts see Medvedev and 
Ivanov as the clear front-runners at this stage, and most of 
our contacts describe Sobyanin, Yakunin, and Naryshkin as at 
best "reserve" candidates. XXXXXXXXXXXX dismissed the theory
that Putin was using Medvedev and Ivanov as "red herrings" to 
distract attention from the "real," as yet unidentified, 
successor, saying that Putin is serious about making Medvedev 
or Ivanov Russia's next president. XXXXXXXXXXXX concurred,
noting that Putin has nothing to gain by choosing a less-familiar 
figure to succeed him. Those seeing the succession as a 
two-horse race are divided as to whether Putin will endorse 
Medvedev or Ivanov, with XXXXXXXXXXXX positing a
"power-sharing"  scenario in which one would serve as president
and the other  as prime minister. 


9. (C) Medvedev's long-standing loyalty to Putin, his 
administrative skills, his propensity for hard work, and his 
potential to benefit if the "national projects" that he 
supervises are successful are among his qualifications for 
the presidency. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that Medvedev would
respect Putin's wishes and work to maintain the existing balance 
among rival elite groups, which would make his selection 
acceptable to all key power elements. XXXXXXXXXXXX also
said  Medvedev's administrative skills were widely underestimated. 
Citing his Kremlin contacts, XXXXXXXXXXXX said the PA had
run more  efficiently under Medvedev than now under
Sobyanin. XXXXXXXXXXXX,  who said Medvedev was his own
choice for president, described  him as dedicated, hardworking,
and skilled in management. (NOTE: In addition to his duties as
First Deputy Prime Minister, Medvedev directs the implementation
of the national projects, is chairman of the board of Gazprom, is
responsible  for coordinating Russia's response to avian flu, and
since mid-May has chaired a government commission on bringing 
digital television to Russia. END NOTE.) 

10. (C) Medvedev nonetheless has challenges to overcome. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX told us Medvedev does not come across as 
"presidential" on television or in public, although she noted 
that he has nearly two years to strengthen his image. The 
camp of PA Deputy Head Igor Sechin, which is still trying to 
convince Putin to remain in office beyond 2008, poses another 
challenge to Medvedev. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Sechin's camp
is trying  to discredit both Medvedev and Ivanov in order to convince 
Putin to seek a third term. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX,
Medvedev lost a recent battle when Fradkov (who is allied with
Sechin) was given control of the Customs Service, which had 
previously been subordinated to Medvedev's frequent ally, 
Minister of Economic Development and Trade German Gref. 

Sergey Ivanov 

11. (C) Ivanov has Putin's trust, is widely regarded as a 
patriot and pragmatist, comes across as presidential, and has 
proven politically resilient in the face of recurrent 
criticism, including from within the military establishment. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX said Ivanov is regarded as a more effective 
administrator and bureaucratic player than Medvedev. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX said Ivanov had demonstrated his ability to
weather political attacks over the last year, as his popularity 
rating had not been affected by the Sechin camp's efforts to 
tarnish his image by exploiting cases of military hazing, 
using the Main Military Prosecutor to highlight the high rate 
of crime in the armed forces, and publicizing the fact that 
Ivanov's son had run over and killed an elderly pedestrian. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that Putin's May 10 address to 
the legislature gave Ivanov a boost by highlighting 
improvements in military capability, innovation, and morale. 

12. (C) Our contacts note that Putin and others could 
perceive some of Ivanov's strengths as weaknesses. For 
instance, while many say that Ivanov is not corrupt (at least 
in relative terms), some of Putin's close advisers reportedly 
see that as a threat, since they do not know how to "do 
business" with such a person. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Putin
may also  see Ivanov's leadership skills as a potential threat to the 
balance of forces among elites, and potentially to Putin's 
own continued influence. 


13. (C) Putin probably considers Vladimir Yakunin's 
long-standing friendship and business experience his best 
qualifications for the presidency, according to our contacts. 
Yakunin shares Putin's KGB background, and they first met in 
the 1990s in St. Petersburg. Yakunin has thus far generally 
avoided the public spotlight, and (according to a close 
supporter) hopes Medvedev and Ivanov will fall short of 
Putin's expectations in the run-up to 2008 (ref A). Our 
contacts generally consider Yakunin a fallback candidate who 
would probably remain loyal to Putin after taking office, but 
could have difficulty forging ties with the political and 
economic elites and the general public. XXXXXXXXXXXX
said  Yakunin was "too exotic and strange" to become president, 
citing Yakunin's close and secretive relationship with the 
hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church, his reported ties 
to Fidel Castro and Lyndon Larouche, and his involvement in 
organizations like the Center for the National Glory of 
Russia. XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed, saying Yakunin was
generally seen as  an "outsider" in the elite, notwithstanding
his ties to Putin. 


14. (C) Sobyanin is thought by some to be a potential 
successor because of his loyalty to Putin and apparent lack 
of ambition. He recently visited London at Putin's 
direction, providing the beginnings of an international 
profile. In XXXXXXXXXXXX's view, Putin could feel
confidentthat  Sobyanin, if elected, would continue to defer
to him.  XXXXXXXXXXXX said Sobyanin's lack of ambition
was one reasonPutin had felt comfortable bringing him into the
PA. (Note. The  basis for the judgment by XXXXXXXXXXXX
and XXXXXXXXXXXX that Sobyanin lacks ambition, rather
than has veiled ambition, is not clear. End Note) Among
Sobyanin's liabilities, according to  XXXXXXXXXXXX, was that he
 I  "one-dimensional" and comfortable 
only when dealing with regional affairs. XXXXXXXXXXXX noted
that  Sobyanin lacks a public platform that would help him build 
support among voters and, despite a good reputation as 
governor of Tyumen, he was proving an ineffective manager in 
the PA. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us Sobyanin had been charged with 
overseeing the drafting of the annual state of the nation 
address that Putin had presented May 10, but Putin had been 
so dissatisfied with the early drafts that he took over the 
speechwriting process himself. Others have painted 
Sobyanin's role in the production of the speech in more 
positive terms. XXXXXXXXXXXX thought Putin would not be 
comfortable making Sobyanin president, given their relatively 
brief connection. 


15. (C) Sergey Naryshkin's name has recently begun surfacing 
with greater frequency in the media and in conversations with 
our contacts (ref B), but he continues to be regarded as at 
best a long-shot for president. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Naryshkin,
 who  worked with Putin in the KGB, is a junior partner to Fradkov, 
who has used him to attack Gref and Minister of Finance 
Aleksey Kudrin. XXXXXXXXXXXX said Naryshkin dutifully follows 
instructions from Putin and Fradkov in the hope of becoming 
Putin's successor, or at least to be Minister of Economic 
Development and Trade in the next president's administration. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX described Naryshkin as an "interesting" figure and 
cautioned against underestimating his chances.
 XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed, saying that Naryshkin is a capable,
detail-oriented  official whose loyalty to Putin is undisputed. 

16. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX's list of five "live" candidates is 
not, in our judgment, definitive. Given Putin's tendency to 
make surprise personnel decisions and the unforeseeable 
political issues that could arise before March 2008, other 
potential successors may emerge. Moreover, although we 
believe Putin does plan to leave office in 2008, that is at 
most a present intention. If as 2008 approaches he is not 
persuaded of the viability of any of the succession 
candidates, particularly if it appears that Russia will face 
difficult domestic or international circumstances, Putin 
could still decide to remain in power, and would likely have 
little trouble in arranging to do so. XXXXXXXXXXX
 told us  a third-term scenario was still on the table in the
Kremlin, although only as a fall-back option. 

17. (C) Our expectation, however, remains that Putin will 
step out of the Presidency in 2008. We concur that, in 
choosing the person he wants to succeed him, he will be 
motivated to protect his wealth and security (e.g., from 
prosecution) and to ensure his continuing political influence 
and social status after leaving office. We believe he will 
also reject any succession candidate who he suspects might 
steer Russia away from his policy "legacy." Those factors 
suggest he will choose a successor in whom he has a high 
degree of personal and political trust and who he sees as at 
least competent as an administrator and politician. We share 
the judgment that he has a relatively free hand in his 
choice, with the political class and broader public ready, at 
least initially, to defer to his judgment within broad limits. 

18. (C) Views differ on how involved Putin plans to be in 
day-to-day governance after 2008. Unlike Yeltsin in 2000, 
Putin will leave office at a relatively young age, in good 
health and with very high public support. If he wants a 
highly operational "behind-the-scenes" role, that could 
incline him to opt for a successor whom he saw as easy to 
control. If he envisions, on the other hand, a "stand-back" 
post-2008 role in which he would engage only on strategic 
issues (a la Deng Xiaoping, a model that our counterparts in 
the Chinese Embassy claim to find germane), that could be 
reflected in a choice of a more dynamic and capable successor 
expected to act with substantial autonomy. Obviously, the 
degree to which any successor -- having won popular election 
and received at least the externalities of power -- would 
long be content to administer day-to-day affairs while 
allowing Putin to direct the real course of policy from 
behind the scenes is open to question. 

19. (C) We also agree that last fall's appointments of 
Medvedev and Sergey Ivanov to the government put them in 
front-runner positions. While some (XXXXXXXXXXXX)
argue that Medvedev is likely to get the nod for the presidency
with Sergey Ivanov as his prime minister, we do not see
compelling  evidence for that conclusion. An at least equally
strong  argument, we believe, could be made in favor of Sergey Ivanov  as president and Medvedev as prime minister, given Putin's 
demonstrated trust in Ivanov and the likelihood that, in a 
world seen to be full of external challenges to Russia, a 
"silovik" with experience in the KGB/FSB, as head of the 
Security Council, and as Defense Minister and manager of the 

MOSCOW 00005740 005 OF 005 

military-industrial complex would be seen as best prepared 
and most credible as head of state. 

20. (C) Putin's present interest lies in leaving such issues 
unresolved, to prevent the initiation of a shift of power 
away from him and towards any perceived successor. The 
uncertainty that is beneficial to him, however, feeds 
competition among possible (or at least self-perceived) 
candidates jockeying for position, and encourages a 
feeding-frenzy among those currently in high positions who 
fear their snouts could soon be torn from the trough.