Wikileaks scandal could hit Russia-US reset
Moscow's caped crusader has been unmasked in a diplomatic scandal which has left the US White House snarling with rage.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has apparently been nicknamed "Alpha Dog," among others, in official communications between US politicians published by Wikileaks over the weekend.
[Original image found at www.rferl.org. rferl.org material copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036]
And the Putin-Medvedev ruling tandem is dubbed "Batman and Robin" in US government circles.
According to confidential documents published by Wikileaks, senior US officials also fear that Russia's notorious mafia has connections at the heart of the government.
And there are growing concerns over the ever closer relationship between Putin and Italian supremo, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
There has been long-running speculation over who rules the Kremlin roost, and while few will be surprised that the west considers President Dmitry Medvedev the junior partner, his identification as Robin to Putin's Batman will raise eyebrows.
That was among the material reported by five international newspapers, The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais.
Meanwhile Putin's apparent superpowers are recognised as having limits, gzt.ru reported, citing reports that "unruly bureaucracy" meant even his decrees were often ignored.
But he has a potential ally abroad, according to the New York Times, which quoted a telegram saying Berlusconi "is increasingly becoming a mouthpiece for Putin" in Europe.
'A virtual mafia state'
In British paper The Guardian, there are claims that Russian intelligence agencies use mafia bosses to carry out criminal operations.
One cable says the relationship is so close that the country has become a "virtual mafia state".
For UK readers this inevitably draws links to the on-going Litvinenko saga, which returned to the news last week when the dead spy's widow published new evidence linking Russian authorities to the 2006 poisoning.
Treason in the ranks
First lady Svetlana Medvedeva does not escape speculation either. According to the leaks she has a personal "black list" of officials who have not backed her husband.
The fateful document has allegedly blighted the careers of some officials.
And a telegram from the US State Department to the Moscow Embassy claims that she creates tension between unnamed rival camps, and provokes a lot of gossip, Der Spiegel claimed.
While the world is braced for the diplomatic fall-out over the allegations, Russian officials are saying little about the reports and how they might affect the on-going "reset" between Moscow and Washington.
Putin's press spokesman Dmitry Peskov told RIA Novosti that he had not looked at the documents in detail and could not comment until they had been verified and the translations confirmed.
Speaking to Interfax Peskov added: "It is necessary to clarify at what level diplomats and officials are making such characterisations, and in which documents."
"In general we need to understand whether it is indeed Putin they are talking about. Only then can there be something to comment on."
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was surprised at the interest over a "petty thief running around on the internet".
And before the leaks were confirmed Lavrov also claimed that Russia had no similar problems with secret information entering the public domain.
"If they steal secret documents [in America], we do not have this happening here," he said. "At least not in the same quantity."
Wikileaks owner Julian Assange has previously threatened to publish similar compromising material about Russia, and reportedly met a journalist from Novaya Gazeta in Stockholm earlier this month.