Posted on December 2, 2010 - by Venik
10.42am: Another world leader gets a very undiplomatic pasting in the latest leaked cable. Next up in the stocks is President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan, who is described as “vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative”, a “micro-manager” and “a practised liar”.
Luke Harding writes:
In the diplomatic equivalent of a mauling, the US embassy gives a brutal assessment of the president’s talents, and those of his ruling family. Berdymukhamedov became ruler of the oil-rich former Soviet nation – known for its megalomanic leaders – in 2006.
The cable, released by WikiLeaks but originally sent by Sylvia Reed Curran, the US’s charge d’affaires in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital, fleshes out Berdymukhamedov’s humble family background.
She says he is the only son in a family of eight children. She adds witheringly: “His father is a retired prison guard with the rank of colonel. The father, many in Turkmenistan think, is more intelligent than the son.”
The website of the US embassy in Ashgabat says that Curran is still the Charge d’Affaires, but for how much longer?
10.32am: Sweden’s Supreme Court has upheld a court order to detain WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for questioning over an alleged sexual assault, according to AP.
Assange, who denies the charges, had appealed two lower court rulings allowing investigators to bring him into custody and issue an international arrest warrant.
Today the Swedish Supreme Court rejected his appeal of the detention order.
10.11am: Salon’s Glenn Greenwald blogs about the hypocrisy of the bloodthirsty reaction to the leaks in America.
The ringleaders of this hate ritual are advocates of – and in some cases directly responsible for – the world’s deadliest and most lawless actions of the last decade. And they’re demanding Assange’s imprisonment, or his blood, in service of a Government that has perpetrated all of these abuses and, more so, to preserve a Wall of Secrecy which has enabled them. To accomplish that, they’re actually advocating – somehow with a straight face – the theory that if a single innocent person is harmed by these disclosures, then it proves that Assange and WikiLeaks are evil monsters who deserve the worst fates one can conjure, all while they devote themselves to protecting and defending a secrecy regime that spawns at least as much human suffering and disaster as any single other force in the world. That is what the secrecy regime of the permanent National Security State has spawned.
10.02am: Two interesting lines emerged overnight in Australia
• The prime minister Julia Gillard strongly criticised WikiLeaks. “I absolutely condemn the placement of this information on the WikiLeaks website,” she told Fairfax Radio. “It’s a grossly irresponsible thing to do and an illegal thing to do.”
• Daniel Assange, Julian’s 20 year old son, told the website crikey.com that he was surprised his father hadn’t been killed. He said he was proud of his father but confirmed he can be difficult to work with. “He gets easily frustrated with people who aren’t capable of working up to his level and seeing ideas that he grasps very intuitively,” he said.
9.17am: The New York Times leads with a 2,300 word article on the revelations about Putin’s Russia. Here’s the nub:
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.
8.57am: More signs of US twitchiness about WikiLeaks. New York’s Daily News is tweeting that Julian Assange may be on a bar crawl in Manhattan. Gawker can’t take it seriously.
Meanwhile the right wing talk show host Todd Schnitt is offering a $50,000 reward for the capture of Assange.
8.43am: David Horsey, a cartoonist for Seattle Pi, manages to get at least eight WikiLeaks story lines into one cartoon. Can you count anymore?
8.29am: The cables aren’t all bad for Putin. One of them from US ambassador William Burns relays praise for the former Russian president by the Noble prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, four months before his death.
Burns wrote: “Solzhenitsyn positively contrasted the eight-year reign of Putin with those of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, which he said had ‘added to the damage done to the Russian state by 70 years of communist rule’. Under Putin, the nation was rediscovering what it was to be Russian, Solzhenitsyn thought.”
8.16am: Here’s an interesting antidote to all those American calls to treat WikiLeaks as a terrorist organisation. Writing in the LA Times two frustrated US federal investigators write that if WikiLeaks had been around in 2001 it could have helped prevent 9/11. They argue that information their superiors wanted bottled up could have been leaked to the site alerting the world to the possibility of a terrorist attack. (Hat tip to my colleague live blogging colleague Richard Adams).
The 9/11 Commission ultimately concluded that [would-be terrorist Zacarias] Moussaoui was most likely being primed as a September 11 replacement pilot and that the hijackers probably would have postponed their strike if information about his arrest had been announced.
WikiLeaks might have provided a pressure valve for those agents who were terribly worried about what might happen and frustrated by their superiors’ seeming indifference. They were indeed stuck in a perplexing, no-win ethical dilemma as time ticked away. Their bosses issued continual warnings against “talking to the media” and frowned on whistle-blowing, yet the agents felt a strong need to protect the public.
8.06am: Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University, thinks aloud about WikiLeaks. He speaks very slowly for a New Yorker but he has some interesting things to say about WikiLeaks as a stateless news organisation.
7.53am: The Chinese government seems to be upping the anti-WikiLeaks rhetoric. Ananth Krishnan, the Beijing correspondent of the Hindu, just tweeted this:
7.31am: In his CNN interview Putin used the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defence against WikiLeaks. Like the Iranian president, Putin suggested that the contents of the cables are part of deliberate ploy to undermine his country.
The Russian news site RIA Novosti has a full transcript of the exchange between Larry King and Putin. Here’s the extract on WikiLeaks:
Larry King: What do you think of the leak of military and diplomatic correspondence by the WikiLeaks group?
Vladimir Putin: Some experts believe that somebody is deliberately “inflating” WikiLeaks. Building up the site’s authority in order to use it to further their political ends. That is one possible theory, and this is the opinion of experts, which has some currency in our country too. I think that if this is not the case, it shows that the diplomatic service should be more careful with its documents. Such leaks have happened before, in the previous era. I don’t see it as any kind of catastrophe.
Larry King: What about the statement by the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates that Russian democracy has disappeared and that the government is being run by the security services? What is your response to the American secretary of defence’s statement?
Vladimir Putin: I am personally acquainted with Mr Gates, I have met him on several occasions. I think he is a very nice man and not a bad specialist. But Mr Gates, of course, was one of the leaders of the US Central Intelligence Agency and today he is defence secretary. If he also happens to be America’s leading expert on democracy, I congratulate you.
Larry King: So he is wrong in saying that your country is being run by secret security services?
Vladimir Putin: He is profoundly wrong. Our country is run by the people of the Russian Federation through legitimately elected bodies of power and administration: through representative bodies (the parliament) and executive bodies (the president and the government of the Russian Federation).
As for democracy, this is a long-running argument we have been having with our American colleagues. I would like to recall that twice in the history of the United States the presidential candidate who ultimately became president of the United States won more votes in the electoral college but lost the popular vote. What’s democratic about that?
And when we tell our American colleagues that there are systemic problems in this sphere we hear, “Don’t poke your noses into our affairs. This is how things work here and this is the way it is going to be.” We are not butting in, but I would also like to advise our colleagues not to poke their noses into our affairs. This is the sovereign choice of the Russian people. The Russian people unequivocally backed democracy in the early 90s. They will not be swayed from this path. No one should have any doubts on that score. This is in Russia’s own interests. And we will definitely continue along this path.
The issue Mr Gates raised in the course of this diplomatic correspondence is clearly related to his desire to bring some pressure to bear on the allies over concrete issues. There are many such issues. Russia is seen as deserving this pressure because it is undemocratic: these measures have to be taken because there is no democracy there. We have heard this a thousand times. We have stopped paying attention to it. But it is still being used as an instrument of US foreign policy. I think this is an erroneous approach to take in the building of relations with the Russian Federation.
Larry King: How would you describe your relationship with President Medvedev? As you know, there are some who say that he is Robin and you are Batman, to refer to those all-American heroes. Or in fact, to get it straight, that you are Batman and he is Robin.
Vladimir Putin: Well, you know when Mr Medvedev and I were considering how to structure our relations and how to run the election campaign, the 2008 presidential election campaign, we were very well aware that many would try to create a split in our common approach to the building of the Russian state and the development of our economy. Because our interaction is a considerable factor in the country’s domestic policy. But it did not occur to us that it would be done in such an impudent, brazen and aggressive fashion.
Such claims of course are aimed at insulting one of us, at damaging our sense of pride and at provoking us into taking steps that would destroy our effective interaction in running the country. I have to tell you that we have already grown used to this. I urge all those who are engaged in such attempts to calm down.
7.21am: It’s Russia day on the WikiLeaks front. Our Moscow correspondent Luke Harding single-handedly wrote five of the Guardian’s pages today.
Here’s how he kicks off the coverage:
Russia is a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy centred on the leadership of Vladimir Putin, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a “virtual mafia state”, according to leaked secret diplomatic cables that provide a damning American assessment of its erstwhile rival superpower.
Putin dismissed the claims with a chuckle in an interview on CNN.
The latest batch of leaked cables also reveals:
• Alexander Litvinenko murder ‘probably had Putin’s OK.’ Senior US diplomat doubted former KGB agent could have been poisoned without Russian president’s approval.
• Russian government ‘using mafia for its dirty work.’ The Kremlin relies on criminals and rewards them with political patronage, while top officials collect bribes ‘like a personal taxation system’.
• US cables claim Russia armed Georgian separatists. Grad missiles were given to rebels in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in a Russian campaign to undermine Georgia, the dispatches claim.
• Britain and America colluded to allow US bases to sidestep a ban on cluster bombs.
Officials concealed from parliament how the US is allowed to bring weapons on to British soil.
• The former foreign secretary David Miliband focused on the civil war in Sri Lankan war ‘to win votes’. A leaked May 2009 cable from the US embassy in London explained his intense focus on the plight of the country’s Tamils in terms of UK electoral geography.
The fallout from the leaks continues to reverberate.
• Amazon has cut adrift the WikiLeaks website after US political pressure.
• The British police are continuing to look for the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, over sexual assault allegations made against him in Sweden.
• There have been calls for Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, to give evidence to a parliamentary inquiry after the Conservatives claimed he sided with them during the talks leading to the formation of the coalition government.
• You can follow all of yesterday’s disclosures and reaction on Wednesday’s live blog. And for the full coverage go to our US embassy cables page.