Below Surface, U.S. Has Dim View of Putin and Russia


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Sep 24, 2010
Below Surface, U.S. Has Dim View of Putin and Russia

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James Hill for The New York Times


Published: December 1, 2010
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."
Government Corruption
In the secret American description, official malfeasance and corruption infect all elements of Russian public life - from rigging elections, to persecuting rivals or citizens who pose a threat, to extorting businesses.
The corruption was described as a drag on the nation of sufficient significance to merit the attention of Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin, who, paradoxically, benefited from cronies who orchestrate graft but support the Kremlin.
A cable describing the government and style of Yuri M. Luzhkov, then the mayor of Moscow, presented the puzzle.

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Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting.
Mkuu inawaje tena unakosa hata muda wa kupanga na kuifanya hii habari nzuri iwe presentable zaidi.
Mkuu inawaje tena unakosa hata muda wa kupanga na kuifanya hii habari nzuri iwe presentable zaidi.

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