Russia: Reacting to WikiLeaks cables

Russia is a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centered on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organized crime are bound together to create a “virtual mafia state”, according to leaked secret diplomatic cables that provide a damning American assessment of its erstwhile rival superpower, the Guardian reported right after a new pile of “secret documents” was published by Wikileaks.

Kremlin

According to Wikileaks, a Spanish investigator claimed that Russia is a “mafia state” where political parties, police agencies and possibly even Putin himself work in concert with the mob. In its comment, the U.S. embassy in Moscow calls the claims “insightful and valuable.”

The Time magazine reported that even more hurtful for the efforts of U.S. diplomats in Moscow is the fact that other cables show them insulting Medvedev, the man who has taken personal charge of improving ties with Washington at no small risk to his popularity at home. One of the dispatches says that Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman,” while others describe him as “pale and hesitant,” his presidential performance “lackluster.”

Responding to the Batman-Robin joke on CNN, Putin was not amused and suggested it was aimed at splitting up his dynamic duo with Medvedev. “Statements of this kind are, of course, aimed at insulting one of us, at snagging our self-confidence, pushing us toward certain steps that would destroy our productive cooperation in running the country,” he said. “We are long used to that.” He also added that the leaks were “no disaster”.

“There is nothing interesting or worth commenting on in the publications released on the WikiLeaks website and in the papers,” the Russian president’s press secretary Natalia Timakova said. “Fictional Hollywood heroes hardly deserve comment,” she added.

“WikiLeaks is comforting to those of us who live outside the inner circle of embassy gossip because it confirms what we already know or strongly suspect. Nothing is really suprising, only entertaining,” Carl Mortished wrote in the Globe and Mail.

Many Western journalists, although criticizing Russia, don’t think Wikileaks made a revolutionary disclosure.

“As far as Russia is concerned, the WikiLeaks disclosures don’t add a lot to the sum of human knowledge. Government officials from the US and elsewhere are quoted publicly saying what they have long claimed in private – that Russia is governed by a corrupt elite dominated by the security services and linked to organised crime,” Stefan Wagstyl wrote in his blog for the Financial Times.

“In fact, far from being offended by this latest accusation, Mr Putin may even be revelling in it. Though some of the other leaked cables paint a damning picture of the country he has helped create, Mr Putin loves a fight and has long since understood that his KGB past has helped him cultivate the strong man image that many ordinary Russians love and many in the West despise and fear. He may ironically also feel a bit more loved by Washington. If there is one thing that has infuriated the Kremlin since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been the sense that its old Cold War foe was not taking it seriously or giving it the respect Moscow thought it deserved. The leaked cables may have said nothing good about Mr Putin or Russia but at least they showed that America is still watching and listening,” according to Andrew Osborn, the Daily Telegraph’s Moscow correspondent.

In fact, Wikileaks “secret reports” just echo prejudices and stereotypes about Russia that are already quite widespread. Mafia, corruption and kleptocracy… The only two things they forgot to mention are the nation’s addiction to vodka and bears. Russia will not even have to fight back to prove them wrong. Because everyone who hates the country has believed in those stories long before Wikileaks, and those who respect the country will just laugh at the entertaining comparisons. Moreover, the disrespect to the country could only close the nation and backfire at the offenders themselves.

“So, with the WikiLeaks disclosures stripping off the diplomatic veil from what American and European officials allegedly say about Russia in private, there is a risk that Putin and his associates may decide that there is no point even pretending to be nice. That may not change Russian policy but it could make dealing with Russia even more difficult. The biggest Russian victims of the whole affair will be the many people who engage with the west, as businessmen, tourists or otherwise,” Wagstyl wrote.

The only thing Wagstyl forgot to mention is that all those Russian businessmen and tourists who are in fact the source of great profits for the west, could get more suspicious and less willing to do business, not apologetic, as Wagstyl expects them to be. And after all, what to apologize for? Is Russia the only country with the problems, if they really exist? Didn’t the U.S. government, for example, make enough mistakes?

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