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'Alpha-dog' Putin rules Russia's chaos: WikiLeaks

Russia's Vladimir Putin emerges from the biggest ever leak of US diplomatic documents as the "alpha-dog" ruler of a deeply corrupt state dominated by its security forces.
By HT Correspondent | Reuters, Moscow
UPDATED ON NOV 29, 2010 07:05 PM IST

Russia's Vladimir Putin emerges from the biggest ever leak of US diplomatic documents as the "alpha-dog" ruler of a deeply corrupt state dominated by its security forces.

The 58-year-old prime minister is presented by US diplomats as Russia's most powerful politician, holding the keys to everything from energy deals to Moscow's Iran policy.

By contrast, President Dmitry Medvedev "plays Robin to Putin's Batman", is pale and hesitant and has to get his decisions approved by Putin, according to the cables.

But correspondence from the elite of the US diplomatic corps also casts Putin as a leader plagued by an unmanageable bureaucracy and grappling with ruling a "virtual mafia state" dominated by corrupt businessmen and the security forces.

A cable from the US Embassy in Paris said US Defense Secretary Robert Gates observed on Feb 8, 2010, that "Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services".

Gates told his French counterpart that "President Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than PM Putin, but there has been little real change", according to the document.

Putin is the dominant member of what Russian officials call a ruling tandem with Medvedev, who Putin tapped as his successor when a constitutional limit of two consecutive terms kept him out of the 2008 presidential race.

But the publication of such frank statements by US diplomats about Russian leaders ahead of the 2012 presidential election are embarrassing for President Barack Obama, who has worked closely with Medvedev to improve US-Russian ties.

Russia "regrets" the release by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks on Sunday of more than 250,000 cables between Washington and US embassies around the world, a diplomatic source said on Monday.

"Digging into diplomatic underwear is not a nice business," the source said on condition of anonymity. "We hope there is nothing (in the documents) which could really surprise us."

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.

Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said "the Kremlin has found nothing interesting or worth comment" in the cables, and, referring to the Batman and Robin allusion, she said that "fictional Hollywood heroes hardly deserve official comment."

"You can't boil two heads"
The documents give a rare glimpse of an arcane world where US diplomats pore over news reports and garner titbits of information on everything from shady businessmen breaking UN sanctions on Iran to Kremlin politics.

According to a cable from Feb 25, 2010, one of Washington's top diplomats, Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns, was told by Azeri President Ilham Aliyev that Medvedev is surrounded by people he does not control.

"Many high-ranking officials don't recognize (Medvedev) as a leader," Aliyev was quoted as saying in a cable published by Britain's Guardian newspaper. Aliyev said he had seen Medvedev taking decisions that needed further approval and that some were stymied by others, presumably in the prime ministerial office.

"He said that there are signs of a strong confrontation between the teams of the two men, although not yet between Putin and Medvedev personally," the cable added.

"We have a saying in Azeri, 'Two heads cannot be boiled in one pot'" (street slang suggesting that two leaders are spoiling for a fight)," Aliyev was quoted as saying.

In other cables quoted by the New York Times, diplomats express concern over the relationship between Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who they said "appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe.

One particularly colourful cable from Moscow relates a wedding party in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan where Kremlin-backed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov dances clumsily with a gold-plated automatic gun stuck down his jeans.

Kadyrov gave the happy couple five kilograms of gold before roaring off into the night with his bodyguard. "Ramzan never spends the night anywhere," the US diplomat is told.

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