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Russia shrugs off Wikileaks “petty thief”

Russia shrugs off Wikileaks “petty thief”
The whistle-blowing website released on Sunday part of some 250,000 diplomatic cables, which Moscow is approaching on a "verify first, comment later" stance.

Wikileaks made the sensitive embassy documents available to five “friendly” international publications: The New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais, Spiegel and The Guardian.

Although it will take many weeks to sort through the mountain of documents, already they are being described as “embarrassing” for the US State Department.

Der Spiegel, the German daily, has described the US “worldview” on the basis of the leaks as “incredibly dark,” while predicting that US relations with several countries “are likely to suffer as a result.”

Covering the period from 2003 until the end of February 2010, Spiegel goes on to say that the leak “sheds light on America's at times arrogant view of the world. Never before have so many political revelations embarrassed the US State Department in one fell swoop.”

Russia dismisses “petty thief”

Despite speculation that the Wikileaks release would contain explosive information on Russia, most of the documents seem to contain little more than cocktail-hour conversation among the diplomatic community.

In one batch of documents retrieved from the whistleblowing site, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is allegedly referred to as an “alpha-dog,” while his relationship with President Dmitry Medvedev is described as that of one between Batman and Robin.

Predictable as such comments are considering the source, they nevertheless provide some insight as to how the US media gets its jaded, one-sided understanding of the way the Russian political system works.

In another cable, one diplomat speculates on the “extraordinarily close relationship” between Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, complete with “lavish gifts.”

Berlusconi and Putin’s good-natured relationship has raised eyebrows back in Washington due to the lucrative energy contracts that have emerged between Italy and Russia at the expense of US contractors.

In April, for example, Italy and Russia signed an agreement of cooperation in the nuclear sector aimed at exchanging technological know-how and building new power plants.

At a joint press conference hosted by the two leaders after the meeting, Berlusconi praised the excellent state of bilateral relations and welcomed Putin "as a friend to whom I am linked by years of fondness and affection."

One of the cables suggests that the Italian leader has become a “mouthpiece” for Russia in Europe.

Dmitry Peskov, press secretary of the Russian prime minister, said it is premature to comment on the evaluations and descriptions of Vladimir Putin by US diplomats as quoted by Wikileaks website.

"Before making judgments or comments one should see the original text, if it exists,” Peskov told Interfax on Monday. “Then check the correctness of the translation of certain words and expressions.  And only after that can something be said.”

The prime minister’s press secretary also said it was necessary to clarify the level of the diplomats and officials that made the descriptions and the sort of documents in which they made them.

From Moscow mayor to “the Russian mafia”

Another document provides the unsubstantiated allegation that Russia and its intelligence agencies are using mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations around the world, arguing that the relationship is so intertwined that the country has become a "virtual mafia state".

Not all of the US cables, according to Russian Reporter, which claims to officially collaborate with Wikileaks, were dripping in diplomatic subjectivity.

In one of the more accurate cables sent back to the US State Department, the US embassy in Moscow may have predicted as early as February that Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov’s job was in jeopardy. The embassy pointed to Luzhkov’s “connections with criminals” as the motivating factor for his termination.

The cable reportedly described the long-serving former mayor's many business affiliations in elaborate detail.

One particular batch of cables that may be of interest to Moscow, yet perhaps no surprise, involves the US embassy’s alleged interest in “local rallies, protests, and pre-election hot debates and conflicts” that may serve to undermine “the stability of the ruling regime.”

Allegedly, the embassy was looking for any information that might discredit local authorities, and what the opposition and protesters’ views and slogans are.

Another cable says that employees working for one of the so-called “liberal” governors were going to manipulate the election results; for some unknown reason they confided this information to the Americans, the report added.

Perhaps the most shocking cable, however, purportedly demonstrates that the United States was aware that Georgian forces were amassing troops near the border prior to the war over South Ossetia in 2008.

The US ambassador to Tbilisi John Tefft reportedly urged the Georgian Foreign Minister and the Deputy Minister of Defense “to remain calm, not overreact, and to de-escalate the situation,” the document reads.

Russian Reporter provided the details of another transmission – this one not directly related to Russia – that provides a behind-the-scene example of US "arrogance" in international politics.

The cable shows how the United States directed other countries to walk out on a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN Assembly in New York in September.

“Before Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s address at the UN General Assembly, the State Department sent a memo to all European countries, telling them when their representatives should leave the room,” the Russian publication reported. “The memo had clear instructions as to what words or topics in the Iranian President’s speech should be the signal to leave for certain countries. The instructions were carefully followed.”

A comical moment ensued, however, over the Swedish representative's confusion over the instructions.

“The Swedish representative was supposed to leave when Ahmadinejad mentioned the Holocaust…but Ahmadinejad never mentioned the Holocaust,” the article revealed. “So representatives of all European countries left, whereas Sweden stayed in the room, sending alarm signals and asking for additional instructions from the American side – what should I do?”

White House "livid"

The White House slammed the release, saying that knowingly divulging such information was a “reckless and dangerous action” and warned that some cables…could disrupt US operations abroad and “put the work and even lives of confidential sources of American diplomats at risk.”

The New York Times admits that, “The disclosure of the cables is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Meanwhile, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, remained defiant in the face of intense pressure from Washington, labeling the Obama administration "a regime that doesn't believe in the freedom of the press and doesn't act like it believes it."

The WikiLeaks website crashed on Sunday just before it was due to publish its horde of documents that have given the US government its latest embarrassment.

Wikileaks stopped short of blaming the US for the cyber attack.

According to The New York Times, none of the 251,287 cables are marked “top secret,” the highest communication status for governments. However, about 11,000 are classified “secret,” 9,000 are labeled “noforn,” which is “shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn.”

“We were never warned”

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it received no official warning from the United States that Wikileaks was about to publish secret correspondence between the US State Department and American embassies worldwide, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.

"So they [the US State Department] must have warned us apparently – perhaps through the media. But I haven't read it yet," Lavrov told reporters.

The Russian Foreign Minister then seemed to rebuke his American counterparts for the massive security breach.

"If they [the United States] get their secret documents stolen, we have none of that, not on that scale at least," he told reporters in response to a question from Interfax.

Lavrov expressed surprise that the work of "some petty thieves running around the Internet" has stirred up so much public interest.  

"It's may make for an interesting reading, but in real politics we are guided by the real deeds of our partners," he added

The Kremlin, meanwhile, has found the publications released on the WikiLeaks site "neither interesting nor worthy of comment,"  spokeswoman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Natalia Timakova told Itar-Tass on Monday.

"Invented Hollywood heroes hardly need official comment," the spokeswoman added.

Robert Bridge, RT