By John Helmer, Moscow
The paucity of materials on Russia in the Wikileaks archive revealed so far is odd, considering the significance of Russia as a potential threat in the US Government’s global threat assessments.
If the Guardian of London is a reliable source, not a filter, just 15 cables from the US Embassy Moscow have been identified, and are accessible in the database of 250,000 diplomatic documents in all. There are only 7 Russians in the database of names accessible through the Guardian – Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya are very well-known; Alexander Litvinenko, the victim of a polonium overdose in London; Victor Bout, now in US prison awaiting trial on gun-running charges; and Semyon Mogilevich, the alleged Russian mafioso and Ukrainian gas merchant, who has also been detained in a Moscow prison.
Widely read already, the materials on Putin and Medvedev are anodyne, cribbed from newspapers and cocktail party chatter, and nothing new. Not another member of the Russian government, and not a single Russian oligarch is the subject of the Guardian’s version of the Wikileaks cables.
The New York Times archive of Wikileaks is much less accessible, and fewer Russia-related documents can be found.
The Daily Telegraph of London has discovered and published Russian materials which apparently escaped the notice of the Guardian team. One of these, dated December 2007, reports a meeting between the US Ambassador and then-chief executive of Rosneft, Sergei Bogdanchikov. In the cable, he reportedly disclaimed any interest in taking over from Mikhail Fridman the non-Russian shareholding in TNK-BP. Bogdanchikov also claimed that Rosneft tied its readiness to participate in the Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline to the readiness of US interests to make shareholding and other concessions in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which carries Chevron oil from Kazkakhstan to the Russian port of Novorossiysk. Both positions appear to have changed recently, after Bogdanchikov was replaced at Rosneft by Eduard Khudainatov last September.
In the Telegraph’s cables on Russia, no other oligarch-sized figure is identified as having talked to the US Embassy officials. In cables reporting on BP’s battle with TNK-BP in 2008, Robert Dudley, then BP’s appointee as chief executive of TNK-BP, was the principal source, along with other BP executives and an American banker. For their interpretation of the Russian side of the affair, the cables report their reliance on Alexander Venediktov, the Echo Moskvy journalist, and other local journalists and publications.
Le Temps of Geneva has recently made an agreement to receive and publish Wikileaks materials relating to Switzerland. It has uncovered one cable relating to Gunvor, the dominant Russian oil trading company which is based in Geneva, and owned by Gennady Timchenko. The US cable, dated November 2008, claimed that “[confidential source] also noted that oil exports to Hungary, by Transneft decree, must go through “a certain intermediary” (Gunvor), which adds one dollar to each barrel. He said in a competitive market, by contrast, an oil trader might add anywhere from five to 20 cents “maximum” to the price of a barrel of oil. […]” The source for this was open Moscow reporting of a lawsuit initiated two months earlier by Alexei Navalny .
None of the Russian oligarchs known to be operating in Switzerland – Victor Vekselberg, Suleiman Kerimov, Dmitry Rybolovlev – has been found in the Wikileaks from that country.
The Russian media have done even less, as the mainstream newspapers have ignored the database and reported selectively only after stories appeared in other countries. The one Russian publication to claim to have made an arrangement with Julian Assange, the self-claiming proprietor of Wikileaks, is Alexander Lebedev’s Novaya Gazeta . The Novaya Gazeta editor, Dmitry Muratov, was asked this week whether Lebedev had paid Assange for the data file or publication agreement, and whether Lebedev has imposed restrictions on what Novaya Gazeta can publish.
Muratov responded: “there have been three publications based on Wikileaks materials.” Denying that money had been paid, Muratov added: “Wikileaks let Novaya use any materials they have for their publications.” According to Muratov’s assistant: “Wikileaks let us feel free to use all of their immense database to choose materials we find most interesting to publish. So far we have published three articles. One in late December on the Khodorkovsky case, another one on the second Wednesday of January on the Presidential elections and the latest one last Wednesday on [Deputy Prime Minister Igor] Sechin’s business.”
The last Novaya Gazeta story appeared on January 18. The US Embassy cables, which are disclosed, originated from the US Embassy in Vilnius on July 28, 2005, and August 30, 2006. They are based on Lithuanian government sources and deal with the sale of the Yukos stake in the Mazeikiu Nafta refinery, Lithuania’s principal source of oil products. After Russian oil companies, TNK-BP and Rosneft, were barred from acquiring control of the refinery by the Lithuanian government, the second US cable reports a TNK-BP executive as saying that Sechin, then presidential assistant and board chairman of Rosneft, ordered TNK-BP not to sign an oil supply contract with Mazeikiu Nafta. The US document calls that “geopolitical revenge mixed with normal commercial considerations” – a back-handed compliment for Sechin.
Nothing more has appeared in Novaya Gazeta over the past month. Muratov doesn’t answer his telephone, and doesn’t explain why. Lebedev issues press claims about himself and the pain he claims to be feeling from a range of Moscow sources whom he doesn’t name, and whose motives he doesn’t specify. But he also doesn’t voluntarily answer questions, and his spokesmen at the National Reserve Bank don’t reply on his behalf.
Into this gap Ruleaks has appeared. This Russian web source has so far published six US cables. They deal with Russian relations with Iceland, Finland, Medvedev’s modernization campaign, and most recently released on February 6, an analysis of corruption in Russian science funding .
If nothing more can be learned about Russia from Wikileaks and its backfile, it’s time for a real-time disclosure of an unusual kind. That’s a non-secret analysis from a US intelligence chief about Russian risks. It was given to the US House of Representatives Committee on Intelligence by the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Lieutenant-General James Clapper, on February 10. Clapper was speaking in the open, without classification. His 34-page report, entitled “U.S. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY WORLDWIDE THREAT ASSESSMENT”, assigns three pages to Russia – more than China, but less than Iran. Here are the important excerpts:
“Last year was marked by significant improvements in US-Russian relations. Russia has demonstrated a willingness to cooperate on some top priorities that it shares with the United States, such as signing the New START Treaty, cooperating on transit and counternarcotics in Afghanistan, and pursuing the pressure track against Iran‟s nuclear program. Other encouraging signs include Russian interest in discussing missile defense (MD) cooperation with the United States and NATO, talks on modernizing the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, and progress on Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). At the same time, policy disagreements persist. Some Russian elites still express suspicion that MD is ultimately directed against Russia.
“Russia shows no willingness to discuss the status of— much less withdrawal of its troops from—South Ossetia and Abkhazia, contested territories inside Georgia‟s internationally-recognized borders. Despite the fact that Russia has moved closer to membership in the WTO, some Russian officials and key lobbies have lingering doubts the move is in their interests. Russia continues to influence domestic politics in other former Soviet republics, most recently in Belarus. Russia’s concern is not with human rights or democracy but rather with the fact that Belarus‟s authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko routinely resists bending to its will. In Ukraine, Russian officials have been eager to engage and promote Russian interests through the Moscow-friendly government there…
“The direction of Russian domestic politics is a major unsettled question for 2011 and 2012. President Medvedev‟s call for “modernization” has sparked a debate among the Moscow elite—and on the blogosphere—about whether modernization is possible without political liberalization. Prime Minister Putin meanwhile has spoken forcefully against significant changes in the existing political order. In 2010, Russia saw a number of spontaneous protests, in part against unpopular government actions but also of a more nationalist bent. Opposition parties’ popular support remains very weak.
“Putin and Medvedev indicate that the decision about who will be president hinges primarily on an arrangement between them. Both have shown interest in running.
“In the last two decades, globalization has internationalized once regional or local organized crime. International organized crime (IOC) quickly has taken advantage of the Internet, cellular telephones, and other forms of rapid communication that have revolutionized commerce. Many of the Soviet successor states have serious organized crime problems. Elsewhere, the nexus between weak and failing states and organized crime is growing….IOC penetration of governments is undermining the rule of law, democratic institutions, and transparent business practices. The growing reach of IOC networks is pushing them to seek strategic alliances with state leaders and foreign intelligence services, threatening stability and undermining free markets. The nexus in Russian and Eurasian states among some government officials, organized crime, intelligence services, and big business figures enhances the ability of state or state-allied actors to undermine competition in gas, oil, aluminum, and precious metals markets.”
In that last line Clapper’s focus turns to Gazprom (Alexei Miller), Rosneft (Eduard Khudainatov), Rusal (Oleg Deripaska), and Polyus Gold (Mikhail Prokhorov and Suleiman Kerimov). But there are no names, and the guarded reference isn’t new.
A year ago, Clapper’s predecessor as DNI, Admiral Dennis Blair, used almost the same language to identify the Russian contribution to international organized crime . According to Blair, there was “a growing nexus in Russian and Eurasian states among government, organized crime, intelligence services, and big business figures. An increasing risk from Russian organized crime is that criminals and criminally linked oligarchs will enhance the ability of state or state-allied actors to undermine competition in gas, oil, aluminum, and precious metals markets.”
A panel of Pickypeeks analysts have compared the two US intelligence disclosures, and here’s the tell-tale emission, I mean omission: Admiral Blair’s explicit mention of “criminals and criminally linked oligarchs” has disappeared in General Clapper’s threat assessment, which refers only to “big business figures”. Does this mean the US intelligence services have warmed to the oligarchs, especially since Mikhail Prokhorov made his takeover of the New Jersey Nets basketball team?
Just one oligarch has been identified by name in the Wikileaks materials published on Russia to date. According to a cable published by Novaya Gazeta, Vladimir Potanin, the Norilsk Nickel oligarch, reportedly told the US Ambassador in March of 2006 that then-President Putin “strongly wants to leave in 2008” and that Dmitry Kozak, a presidential advisor and special representative to the Caucasus, “cannot be excluded” as a candidate for the presidency in 2008. The US ambassador apparently didn’t know at the time that Kozak had been sent south by Putin after crossing swords with then presidential assistant Sechin. Kozak is still in exile in the south, where his title is vice prime minister in charge of the Sochi Winter Olympics preparations.
Nothing else about the oligarchs and their government connexions has surfaced in the Wikileaks version of the 250,000 US cables. At least, nothing as potent as Admiral Blair’s threat assessment of February 2010, nor even as pointed as General Clapper’s report of last week.