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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

WikiLeaks Archive - Dim View of Russia and Putin - NYTimes.com

Official portrait of Vladimir PutinImage via WikipediaWikiLeaks Archive - Dim View of Russia and Putin - NYTimes.com

Early in 2009, as recession rippled around the world, the United States Embassy in Moscow sent to Washington a cable summarizing whispers within Russia’s political class. Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, the rumors said, often did not show up at his office.

The embassy titled the cable “Questioning Putin’s Work Ethic.”

“There are consistent reports that Putin resents or resists the workload he carries,” it said, citing Mr. Putin’s “fatigue,” “hands-off behavior” and “isolation” to the point that he was “working from home.”

The cable, approved by the American ambassador, John R. Beyrle, assessed the Kremlin rumors not as indicators of Mr. Putin’s weakness, but of the limits of his position in a period of falling commodity prices and tightening credit. Russia’s most powerful man sat atop Russia’s spoils. The recession left him with less to dole out, eroding “some of his Teflon persona.”

“His disengagement reflects,” the cable concluded, “his recognition that a sharp reduction in resources limits his ability to find workable compromises among the Kremlin elite.” Officially, the United States has sought since last year what President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev, have called a “reset” in relations.

But scores of secret American cables from recent years, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to several news organizations, show that beneath the public efforts at warmer ties, the United States harbors a dim view of the post-Soviet Kremlin and its leadership, and little hope that Russia will become more democratic or reliable.

The cables portray Mr. Putin as enjoying supremacy over all other Russian public figures, yet undermined by the very nature of the post-Soviet country he helped build.

Even a man with his formidable will and intellect is shown beholden to intractable larger forces, including an inefficient economy and an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignores his edicts.

In language candid and bald, the cables reveal an assessment of Mr. Putin’s Russia as highly centralized, occasionally brutal and all but irretrievably cynical and corrupt. The Kremlin, by this description, lies at the center of a constellation of official and quasi-official rackets.

Throughout the internal correspondence between the American Embassy and Washington, the American diplomats in Moscow painted a Russia in which public stewardship was barely tended to and history was distorted. The Kremlin displays scant ability or inclination to reform what one cable characterized as a “modern brand of authoritarianism” accepted with resignation by the ruled.

Moreover, the cables reveal the limits of American influence within Russia and an evident dearth of diplomatic sources. The internal correspondence repeatedly reflected the analyses of an embassy whose staff was narrowly contained and had almost no access to Mr. Putin’s inner circle.

In reporting to Washington, diplomats often summarized impressions from meetings not with Russian officials, but with Western colleagues or business executives. The impressions of a largely well-known cadre of Russian journalists, opposition politicians and research institute regulars rounded out many cables, with insights resembling what was published in liberal Russian newspapers and on Web sites.

The cables sketched life almost 20 years after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, a period, as the cables noted, when Mr. Medvedev, the prime minister’s understudy, is the lesser part of a strange “tandemocracy” and “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.” All the while, another cable noted, “Stalin’s ghost haunts the Metro.”

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