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09KYIV941, ODESA: CITY WITH A RUSSIAN PAST SEARCHING FOR A

June 2, 2009

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09KYIV941 2009-06-02 12:13 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kyiv

VZCZCXRO8293
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHKV #0941/01 1531213
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 021213Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY KYIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7891
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KYIV 000941 
 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/06/2017 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL UP
SUBJECT: ODESA: CITY WITH A RUSSIAN PAST SEARCHING FOR A 
UKRAINIAN IDENTITY 
 
Classified By: Political Counselor Colin Cleary for reasons 1.4 (b,d) 
 
Summary 
------- 
1.  (C) Odesa, with a population of over a million, is an 
important commercial and cultural center for Ukraine.  The 
city, known for its sea port and ethnically diverse 
population, is still strongly influenced by historic and 
cultural ties to Russia.  In recent meetings, interlocutors 
described a tolerant city whose inhabitants continue to 
distrust NATO, but who - for the most part - do not object to 
hosting the annual Partnership for Peace-related Sea Breeze 
military exercises.  Our contacts expect the Party of Regions 
(POR), which received over 50 percent of the vote oblast-wide 
in the 2007 parliamentary elections, to come out on top in 
expected presidential elections this year.  Some foresee 
newcomer Arseniy Yatsenyuk placing second behind POR's 
Yanukovych.  Our contacts felt the national government should 
do a better job of articulating its policies towards NATO and 
establishing a greater sense of national unity among the 
regions.  However, no one believed that there is a 
significant movement in Odesa in favor of political union 
with Russia.  End Summary. 
 
Neutral on Sea Breeze, Against NATO 
----------------------------------- 
 
2.  (C) Anatoliy Boyko of the NGO Committee of Voters of 
Ukraine (CVU), explained that most people in Odesa are 
neutral about the Sea Breeze exercise itself but many still 
have negative views towards NATO.  Oleg Dolzhenkov, of Odesa 
City Council, told us that he expects more protesters - 
mostly coming from Crimea - to demonstrate against the 
exercise in Odesa this year.  He attributed this to 
election-year posturing by anti-NATO groups and Natalia 
Vitrenko's Progressive Socialist Party, which favors 
integration into the Russian Federation.  He explained that 
the city government supported the exercise and faced no 
serious opposition to it within the city.  However, he 
explained that the city had to take a cautious approach with 
the public on the subject of NATO to avoid a backlash against 
the exercise. 
 
3.  (C) Odesa Mayor Eduard Hurvitz, a former Our Ukraine Rada 
Deputy and elected mayor in 2006 on a pro-Yushchenko 
platform, told us that the national government needed to do a 
better job of implementing its policy towards NATO.  Hurvitz 
criticized Ukrainian leaders' efforts thus far to explain the 
benefits of Ukraine's potential membership in the Alliance to 
the public, and lamented widespread misconceptions about the 
Alliance promoted in Odesa by Russian media.  Hurvitz 
underlined that Russian media consistently send negative 
messages about NATO to Ukrainian viewers. 
 
Nostalgia for Russia but no Lean towards Moscow 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
4. (C)  Dolzhenkov said that while most in Odesa speak 
Russian and identify with Russian culture, there is no 
serious interest in closer political ties to Moscow.  He 
explained that Odesa's multicultural make-up contributed to a 
strong sense of civic identity and a streak of independence. 
Dolzhenkov said that the national government has done a bad 
job of unifying the country's different regions.  He felt 
that the Government's overemphasis on use of the Ukrainian 
language in Russian speaking Odesa had backfired, especially 
when explaining its NATO policy. 
 
5. (C) When describing Odesa's sense of Ukrainian identity, 
CVU head Boyko described differences between the oblast's 
urban and rural populations, as well as its diverse ethnic 
groups.  He said the city is deeply influenced by its Soviet 
past and nostalgia for the Russian Empire.  In the rural 
northern parts of the oblast, there is a majority of ethnic 
Russians - who typically support POR - intermixed with some 
ethnic Ukrainians.  The southern part of the oblast has 
significant ethnic Bulgarian, Moldovan, and Romanian 
populations.  Boyko asserted that the complex ethnic 
patchwork and rural/urban differences made simple 
characterization impossible.  Despite a general affinity to 
Russian culture, he saw no signs of significant support for 
closer political ties to Russia. 
 
6. (C) Odesa Mayor Hurvitz explained that Ukraine's regional 
differences have made it hard for the government to create a 
stronger sense of national identity.  He asserted, however, 
that Ukraine as a whole had become more democratic in the 
past five years and that it was leaning more toward Europe 
than Moscow.  Hurvitz believes that Ukraine's most difficult 
bilateral issue with Russia is the status of the Russian 
 
KYIV 00000941  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea.  He asserted that it was in 
Ukraine's best interest that the fleet leave in 2017 when its 
lease terminates.  However he said that the GOU had thus far 
done a bad job of handling the issue with Russia and that it 
had to smooth bilateral relations. 
 
Party of Regions Stronghold but Hoping for Change 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
7. (C) Dolzhenkov said there was general disa
ppointment in 
President Yushchenko.  He expected Party of Regions candidate 
Yanukovych to win in Odesa in upcoming presidential elections 
but noted a growing interest in candidate Yatsenyuk.  He felt 
that Yatsenyuk's appeal to voters as a fresh face could help 
to him to place second.  He added that Odesa voters do not 
seem to hold Yatsenyuk's signing of the "infamous" 2008 
letter requesting a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine 
against him. 
 
8. (C) Boyko confirmed that POR is the leading party in the 
oblast, and that Yushchenko's Our Ukraine is fractured and 
unlikely to get many votes.  He assessed that the Lytvyn Bloc 
is in a good position while Yuliya Tymoshenko's Bloc would do 
fairly well despite weak local party leadership.  Yatsenyuk 
has not been active in the oblast but is an attractive 
candidate to voters hoping for change despite lacking the 
local organization to run a effective campaign and the time 
to put together a strong team in time for the elections. 
Boyko expects serious problems with the election process such 
as vote buying, misuse of administrative resources, faulty 
voter lists, and poorly trained election officials.  However, 
he noted that the situation will differ from the first round 
of the 2004 elections -- this time no single party will have 
a monopoly on the power or the resources to decisively 
influence the outcome. 
 
Locals Say No Organized Hate Groups 
----------------------------------- 
 
9. (C)  Most of our interlocutors described a city tolerant 
towards its many ethnic groups.  Boyko described Oleh 
Tyahnybok, leader of the nationalist Svoboda party, as a 
"creation of the media," dismissing him as a serious 
presidential candidate.  The local Rodina Party, which is 
anti-NATO and for official use of the Russian language, has 
limited support.  Boyko was not aware of organized hate 
groups in the city despite a recent clash which resulted in 
the death of a member of reported nationalist group.  Despite 
several anti-Semitic incidents of graffiti and vandalism in 
2007, Dolzhenkov said that anti-Semitic incidents had been 
carried out by individuals and not by organized hate groups. 
Rabbi Avraham Wolff, a leading rabbi in the region, told us 
that anti-Semitism continued to be a problem but the recent 
examples he cited were in other regions of Ukraine. 
PETTIT

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