- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

MOSCOW (AP) — The leaked U.S. diplomatic cables that portray Russia as a virtual mafia state are “total nonsense” of doubtful authenticity, the spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday.

“We don’t know whether these dispatches, cables are authentic or some kind of fakes,” Dmitri Peskov told Itar Tass news agency. “They look like total nonsense.”

The cables, part of a vast tranche of purloined communiques released by the WikiLeaks website, describe Russia as a country where criminals work closely with the powerful security agencies, men enter the Kremlin lugging suitcases purportedly stuffed with cash and governors collect bribes as methodically as taxes.

The documents suggest that corruption has metastasized through Russia and that Mr. Putin allegedly stashed huge amounts of money in foreign bank accounts.

The allegations about Mr. Putin’s accounts were “circulated at the level of tabloids, fabrications, insinuations, and they were picked up by these pseudo-diplomats,” Mr. Peskov was quoted as saying. “One can’t even call them libelous, because libel has to be based on certain arguments, but these claims are not backed up by anything.”

Mr. Putin himself sharply slapped at one of the first cables to be released, which portrayed President Dmitry Medvedev as like Robin to Mr. Putin’s Batman — a vivid characterization of Mr. Putin’s hand-picked successor as submissive to the powerful premier, who is widely believed still to be the country’s leader despite leaving the presidency in 2008.

“We were fully aware of the fact that many people would try to introduce a split in our joint approach to the construction of the Russian Federation … but, to be honest with you, we didn’t suspect that this would be done with such arrogance, with such impudence and so brazenly,” he said in an interview Wednesday on CNN, according to a Kremlin transcript.

Russia’s response to the release of the cables that began this week generally has been terse, either reflecting a desire not to endanger improving relations with the United States or an unwillingness to draw more attention to sometimes sharply critical portrayal.

Asked about the documents and their allegations on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Salanov responded circuitously, saying that although much of what appears in the cables is routine, “certain passages are encountered that, to put it gently, call forth bewilderment and regret.”

One of the cables released Thursday cites a Spanish prosecutor regarded as an authority on Russian organized crime as calling Russia a “virtual mafia state.” The document, dating from February, summarizes comments made by Jose Grinda Gonzalez.

According to the cable from the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Mr. Grinda believes that Russia’s Federal Security Service and military intelligence effectively control the Russian mafia. The cable also says Mr. Grinda claims to have information that some Russian political parties work “hand in glove” with organized crime.

Another, from February by John Beyrle, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, cites sources whose names were redacted by WikiLeaks.

A source “told us that people often witness officials going into the Kremlin with large suitcases and bodyguards and he speculated that the suitcases are full of money,” the cable reads.

“The governors collect money based on bribes, almost resembling a tax system, throughout their regions,” it continues.

Kremlin critics and opposition were hardly surprised by the allegations.

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