Wikileaks: Russia branded 'mafia state' in cables

Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson says people have a right to know what officials working on their behalf are doing

Russia has become a virtual "mafia state" with widespread corruption, bribery and protection rackets, US diplomatic cables on Wikileaks allege.

There was no differentiation between government and organised crime, one Spanish prosecutor investigating crime links says.

PM Vladimir Putin told CNN there may be "political purposes" behind the leaks but they were "no catastrophe".

The documents are among hundreds being released by the whistle-blower website.

'Unethically done'

The cables, published by the Guardian newspaper, paint a picture of a corrupt Russia centred around the leadership of Mr Putin. Bribery in the political system totals an estimated $300bn (£192bn) a year, the paper says.

In one cable from January 2010, Spanish prosecutor Jose "Pepe" Grinda Gonzales claimed that in Russia, Belarus and Chechnya "one cannot differentiate between the activities of the Government and OC (organised crime) groups".

Analysis

These reports from leaked memos are embarrassing; but the fallout for the Kremlin is likely to be minimal. At home, Russian TV is being highly selective about what it reports about Wikileaks - there was no mention of a mafia state in the main TV news bulletins.

But even if there had been, Russian viewers are unlikely to have been surprised by that. Many people here assume that is the case. Even President Medvedev in his state of the nation address this week conceded that law enforcement agencies and organs of power were merging with the criminal world.

Diplomatically, the situation is a little trickier. The US defence secretary, for example, may find it harder to win friends and influence people in Moscow, after his leaked description of the Russian government "as an oligarchy run by the secret services". But again, that such views exist in Washington will come as no surprise to politicians in Moscow. And right now neither Russia nor the West want relations to sour - when there are so many international issues they need to work together on.

Judge Grinda led a long investigation into Russian organised crime in Spain, leading to more than 60 arrests.

A cable from the US embassy in Madrid talks about the "unanswered question" of the extent to which Mr Putin is implicated in the mafia and whether he controls its actions.

The leaked cables also show that Washington believed Mr Putin was likely to have known about the operation to murder former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The Kremlin has denied any involvement.

US ambassador to Russia John Beyrle also submits a damning report on corruption in Moscow.

"Criminal elements enjoy a krysha (protection racket) that runs through the police, the federal security service, ministry of internal affairs and the prosecutor's office, as well as throughout the Moscow city government bureaucracy," Mr Beyrle says.

In one cable from February this year, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says "Russian democracy has disappeared".

Mr Putin, responding to that claim in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, said Mr Gates was "deeply misled".

He said of the Wikileaks affair: "Some experts believe that somebody is deceiving Wikileaks to undermine their reputation, to use them for their own political purposes later on. That is one of the possibilities."

But he added: "I don't see this as being a catastrophe."

Mr Putin did appear riled at US diplomats referring to him as Batman to President Dmitry Medvedev's Robin.

"To be honest with you, we didn't suspect that this would be done with such arrogance, with such a push and, you know, being so unethically done."

Other cables reveal:

  • The Russian defence ministry "has not changed its modus operandi for information exchange nor routine dialoguing since the end of the Cold War", says one US embassy cable
  • Associates of suspected Russian arms merchant Viktor Bout tried to prevent his extradition to the US from Thailand by using "money and influence", US ambassador to Thailand says
  • UK Foreign Office Russia director Michael Davenport says Russia is a "corrupt autocracy"
  • Ukrainian businessman with links to the Russia state-run conglomerate Gazprom told the US ambassador he had ties to Russian organised crime, needing approval of a gangster called Semyon Mogilevich to run his business
Assange 'persecuted'

BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says that neither Moscow nor Washington will be happy at being exposed by the latest Wikileaks revelations, with the releases placing new strains on their relationship.

The Main Leaks So Far

  • Fears that terrorists may acquire Pakistani nuclear material
  • Several Arab leaders urged attack on Iran over nuclear issue
  • US instructs spying on key UN officials
  • China's changing relationship with North Korea
  • Yemen approved US strikes on militants
  • Personal and embarrassing comments on world leaders
  • Afghan leader Hamid Karzai freed dangerous detainees
  • Russia is a "virtual mafia state" with widespread corruption and bribery

In other developments, Interpol issued a notice on Wednesday asking for information on the whereabouts of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Interpol said the Australian was wanted for questioning in Sweden over an alleged sex offence, which he has denied.

Mr Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, accused Swedish authorities of "persecuting" his client.

Mr Stephens added: "The security services of a number of countries know exactly where he is. Scotland Yard and the Swedish prosecutor have known where he is and how to get hold of him since he got into the UK."

On Wednesday the US online shopping giant Amazon reportedly blocked Wikileaks from its servers - a move welcomed by US officials.

Access to Wikileaks' homepage was sporadic on Wednesday. The website had been using Amazon servers since its Swedish-based servers came under cyber-attack twice earlier this week.

Wikileaks has so far posted only 505 of the 251,287 messages it says it has obtained. However, all of the messages have been made available to five publications, including the New York Times and the Guardian.

The US has condemned the disclosures as an attack on the world community.

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