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Russia, Called 'Mafia State,' Condemns U.S. Leaks as 'Madness'

Wikileaks Screenshot from RFE/RLDec. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Russia denounced leaked U.S. diplomatic cables published by the Guardian newspaper in which a Spanish prosecutor described the country as a "virtual mafia state" and oil experts suggested Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had amassed illegal wealth.
[Image apparent screenshot, reproduced at www.rferl.org; rferl.org materials copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036]

The content of the documents is "at the gutter press level and verges on madness," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said late yesterday in Moscow. "If we assume that these telegrams were written by real diplomats of some country, then we wish this country had more professional and thoughtful diplomats."

A document dated Feb. 8 cites Spanish prosecutor Jose Gonzalez as telling U.S. officials that he "cannot differentiate between the activities of the government and organized crime groups." The cable, released by WikiLeaks.org, was published yesterday by the London-based Guardian.

The leaks may add to tensions between the U.S. and Russia as Republican opposition to rapid ratification of a nuclear arms treaty threatens to set back President Barack Obama's initiative to "reset" relations between the counties. Russian leaders have also warned of a new arms race if the U.S. and its allies fail to cooperate with their country on missile defense.

U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle said in comments published yesterday by the Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda that the leaking of confidential cables was directed "not only against U.S. foreign policy but the international community as a whole."

"I believe that the partnership that we have built up over the last two years under President Obama's administration won't suffer in the long-term," he said.

Peskov also said he didn't think the leaks would damage U.S.-Russian relations.

'Unanswered Questions'

Gonzalez, who has investigated the Russian mafia in Spain, briefed officials at the U.S. embassy in Madrid on Jan. 14, according to the February document published by the Guardian.

The prosecutor considers Russia a "virtual mafia state," according to the cable. The Russian mafia "exercises tremendous control over certain strategic sectors of the global economy," he was cited as saying. There are also "unanswered questions regarding the extent to which Russian PM Putin is implicated in the Russian mafia and whether he controls the mafia's actions."

Vladimir PutinPutin has accumulated "illicit wealth" through ties to secretive energy traders, according to oil industry experts cited in a Nov. 24, 2008, cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow and published by the Guardian.

The prime minister on Dec. 1 dismissed criticism in other leaked State Department memos, saying the U.S. should examine its own democratic institutions before questioning others.

WikiLeaks this week released a diplomatic cable in which Defense Secretary Robert Gates was cited as saying "Russian democracy has disappeared, and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services."

Putin Successor

Putin, a former KGB spy, served as president for eight years before becoming prime minister in 2008, when legal limits prevented him from running for a third consecutive term. His successor, Dmitry Medvedev, worked for Putin in the St. Petersburg mayor's office before joining his presidential administration.

The latest documents cite former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as saying she heard from Russian opposition contacts that Putin didn't install a strong successor because he feared "law enforcement investigations." Putin's aim was to protect "alleged illicit proceeds," according to the cables published by the Guardian.

Putin, 58, and Medvedev, 45, haven't said which man will run for the presidency in 2012.

'Unethically Done'

The Russian prime minister, in an interview with CNN's Larry King broadcast Dec. 1, criticized attempts to divide him from Medvedev and "slander" the two men.

"We didn't suspect that this would be done with such arrogance, with such a push and, you know, being so unethically done," Putin said.

Gonzalez said he agreed with a thesis put forward by ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko that intelligence and security services "control organized crime in Russia," according to the February cable.

Litvinenko, a Putin critic who received political asylum in the U.K., died from radiation poisoning in November 2006. U.K. investigators say former KGB bodyguard Andrei Lugovoi poisoned Litvinenko during a meeting at London's Millennium Hotel. Lugovoi denies any involvement in Litvinenko's death.

Then-Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried suggested Putin may have known about the murder, according to a cable dated Dec. 12, 2006, and published by the Guardian.

Litvinenko Murder

Fried told an adviser to then-French President Jacques Chirac, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, that he was doubtful rogue elements murdered Litvinenko "without Putin's knowledge," given his "attention to detail," according to the cable.

Peskov criticized the document for spreading rumors. "There are no facts," he said yesterday by phone. "It is very strange to see that a high-level official enjoys rumors so much."

Litvinenko blamed Putin for his own murder in a deathbed statement, an accusation the Kremlin called "absurd." While the U.K. demanded Lugovoi be handed over for prosecution, the Russian government refused to hand him over, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens.

WikiLeaks, a nonprofit group that releases information the government wants to keep confidential, has been posting on its website what it says are more than 250,000 U.S. State Department documents written from December 1966 to February 2010. Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson earlier this week declined to confirm information in the documents, saying it is the agency's policy not to comment on specific leaked materials.

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