WikiLeaks cables: Putin ‘runs virtual Mafia state’
The US and UK’s opinions of Russia threaten to ‘reset’ relations back to Cold War mode
President Barack Obama's hopes of a "reset" of relations between Washington and Moscow look bleak today following the release by WikiLeaks of US diplomatic cables that characterise Russia as a "virtual Mafia state" run for the personal enrichment of prime minister Vladimir Putin.
The cables, published today in the Guardian and other newspapers, reveal some frank assessments of Russian affairs by countries including the US, UK and Spain, and will be much more harmful to relations than the revelation earlier this week that the country's president, Dmitry Medvedev, "plays Robin to Putin's Batman".
The new revelations include:
• No democracy: An opinion attributed to US defence secretary Robert Gates that "Russian democracy has disappeared" and its government is "an oligarchy run by the security services".
• Personal wealth: Vladimir Putin is rumoured to have enriched himself to the tune of billions while in office via a Swiss-based oil company, Gunvor, which allegedly levies a $1 surcharge per barrel instead of the usual 5 cents.
• Weak president: Putin, who was president until 2008, installed the pliable Dmitry Medvedev as his successor rather than Sergei Ivanov - a stronger, more experienced rival - in order to protect his wealth. One cable noted:
"Putin understands that under the system he has created there is no real rule of law and that at any time anyone can be arrested or businesses destroyed."
• 'Mafia state': According to Spanish Special Prosecutor for Corruption and Organised Crime, Jose "Pepe" Grinda Gonzalez, Russia is a virtual Mafia state, and to all intents and purposes, "one cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and [organised crime] groups".
Russia's foreign, internal and military intelligence agencies control the Mafia according to Gonzalez.
• 'Kleptocracy': The government of the city of Moscow "operates more as a kleptocracy than a government". The three-tiered structure of the city's criminal network is headed by the mayor of Moscow, Yuriy Luzhkov, with the FSB (formely the KGB) and the ministry of internal affairs at the second level, and ordinary criminals at the bottom. The British Foreign Office says Russia's political system "is best described as a corrupt autocracy".
• Litvinenko link: The US considers that the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning in London in 2006, is unlikely to have been carried out without the knowledge of then-president Putin.
• 'Killer's eyes': Chris Patten, a former British minister and the European Union's External Relations Commissioner, said of Putin's character: "He seems a completely reasonable man when discussing the Middle East or energy policy, but when the conversation shifts to Chechnya or Islamic extremism, Putin's eyes turn to those of a killer."
Putin has used a down-the-line interview with Larry King Live to hit back at the "Batman and Robin" jibe, describing it as "slanderous". He has not yet responded to these stronger allegations.
Observers say it is now clear why the Russian PM got out of visiting Zurich for today's World Cup vote. He would have known what was coming from WikiLeaks because of the Americans' desperate attempts to apologise in advance for its diplomats' unguarded comments. ·