WikiLeaks – On Russia, In Summary

WikiLeaks logoThe amount of information on Russia in the WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables is immense. In just five days, 55 cables have been posted from the US Embassy in Moscow alone, while four times that many cite Russia in some capacity. Many speak to illicit activity on the part of the Russian government – close ties with the mafia, shady financial dealings, collusion with foreign leaders, and the repression of political enemies, to name a few. And indeed, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the document release was largely meant to provide information on closed societies such as Russia.

Russia’s state-sponsored media is largely ignoring the leaked cables, while more independent online and newspaper media sources have been discussing them more actively. As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty argues, most Russians are already “well aware of rampant corruption among their country’s ruling elite” and may be unfazed by the revelations.

But the ruling elite itself is clearly irked. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the United States had acted “with arrogance, rudeness, and unethically,” and his political party, United Russia, released a statement late on Thursday complaining that corruption is a problem in every country and Russia was being unfairly stereotyped. “This can only be done with one goal: to prevent Russia and its foreign partners from entering a new level of cooperation. Such a policy is, at a minimum, unwise and unmeasured,” read the statement.

The number of allegations, analyses, and observations in these materials is already so vast as to easily overwhelm the reader. Given that only 608 of the total 250,000+ leaked cables have been released so far, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg. Below is a set of summaries of some of the most scathing articles on Russia and the cables.

WikiLeaks cables condemn Russia as ‘mafia state’
The Guardian
A rundown of several leaked cables that label Russia as a “corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy” that is “using [the] mafia for its dirty work” and where law enforcement agencies “operate a de facto protection racket for criminal networks.” Years of investigations by a Spanish prosecutor back the allegations.

Additionally, Prime Minister Putin is accused of hiding “secret wealth” in overseas accounts.

Dmitry Medvedev ‘plays Robin to Putin’s Batman’
The Guardian
Jokes about this comparison have already fully permeated the global news media. But, as this article describes, the entirety of what was said in this cable paints a more complex picture of the rulers’ relationship. That idea that Putin and Medvedev are akin to Batman and Robin was only one of three camps adhered to by US diplomats’ Russian contacts. The other two sides argued that Medvedev was either slowly gaining power or was no different than Putin.

In an interesting side note, US officials argued that “gullible Europeans and Americans who believed Medvedev was more enlightened than Putin were probably fooling themselves.”

Questioning Putin’s Work Ethic
via the New York Times
Former US Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle contends that Putin resents his workload as prime minister and has taken to “working from home.” In light of his frequent absence from the Russian White House, the bulk of ministerial duties have been left to First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. This lead to delays in project implementation because “the Russian system was geared to top-down decisions and paralysis was often the result of Putin’s inaction.”

Alexander Litvinenko murder ‘probably had Putin’s OK’
The Guardian
Daniel Fried, the former top US diplomat in Europe, questioned in one cable “whether rogue security elements could operate, in the UK no less, without Putin’s knowledge,” and “described the Russians as increasingly self-confident, to the point of arrogance.” The article also cites additional evidence of Russian governmental involvement in the murder.

In response to the revelations, Litvinenko’s widow, Marina Litvinenko, summed up a common sentiment regarding the cables in general: “For years we have been trying to get the authorities in the west to view my husband’s murder as a state-sponsored crime. Now it appears they knew it all along.”

Moscow mayor presided over ‘pyramid of corruption’
The Guardian
Ambassador Beyrle describes Moscow under recently fired Mayor Yury Luzhkov. That city, he says, constituted “a system in which it appears that almost everyone at every level is involved in some form of corruption or criminal behaviour.” In his frank assessment of “Moscow’s criminal world,” Beyrle states: “Luzhkov is at the top. The FSB, MVD [security services and police - ed.] and militia are at the second level. Finally ordinary criminals and corrupt inspectors are at the lowest level.”

The ambassador’s sources disagreed whether city officials paid off top Kremlin insiders with suitcases “full of money” or “via a secret account in Cyprus.”

According to the Guardian, Beyrle’s description of corruption in the Russian government and security agencies “offers the most detailed and apparently authoritative account so far.” The newspaper notes that the Kremlin will likely be embarrassed by the allegations, given President Medvedev’s stated attempts to thwart corruption.

Another cable details Luzhkov’s use of the city budget to both line his own pockets and finance “his nationalist foreign policy agenda.”

Russian move to airbrush Stalin ‘too half-hearted’
The Guardian
Attempts by the Kremlin to whitewash dictator Joseph Stalin’s bloody reputation were not strong enough to constitute a real threat to academic freedom in Russia, and were mostly made for political ends, says the US embassy in Moscow. At the same time, leaked sources cite disturbing tactics to this end, including by ordering professors to turn in students who expressed “concepts damaging to Russia’s interests.” It also includes accusations that the Kremlin pays bloggers to influence online debates over Soviet-era human rights abuses.