WikiLeaks: Vladimir Putin, He’s Just Like Us

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"Working from home." Photo: TimesOnline.co.uk

The Times has gotten around to scrutinizing the WikiLeaks cables that involve Russia — beyond the splashy buddy-buddy relationship between Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Turns out that after the recession hit, Putin's personal discipline went even further south than the occasional Champagne and caviar party with the Italian stallion. As money dried up, he became distant, not controlling the Kremlin power structure as closely as he once had. “His disengagement reflects his recognition that a sharp reduction in resources limits his ability to find workable compromises among the Kremlin elite," read one U.S. diplomatic cable. In fact, it looks like he became a regular old office grouch. "There are consistent reports that Putin resents or resists the workload he carries," the cable said, citing rumors among Moscow's ruling elite. Putin got so "fatigued" and "hands-off" that he even started "working from home."

The cables from Russia also reveal a country still gripped by corruption and stagnation. Moscow, apparently, is viewed by the U.S. as a complex web of police and business interests run by a corrupt mayor who served at President Dmitry Medvedev's pleasure. "In this world the government effectively was the mafia," the Times explains, and the direct interaction between business and government stretches all the way to the top.

Meanwhile, for all of Washington's patience that Russia would evolve from its Soviet past into a less corrupt, more free-market nation, there isn't much sign of that coming true. Collaboration between the U.S. and Russia, beneath the surface, is minimal, as is the level of intelligence sharing and communication. The Russian defense ministry, one cable said "has not changed its modus operandi for information exchange nor routine dialoguing since the end of the Cold War."

A Dim U.S. View of Russia and Putin [NYT]