Kill it, spin it – Putin will do anything to stifle the Panama Papers story
The Panama Papers are a wake-up call for anyone who may have doubted how deeply cronyism and corruption are rooted into Russia’s leadership. But for those who have followed the inner workings of Putin’s presidency for the past 16 years or so, they are as much confirmation as revelation.
What will be truly fascinating is watching how this new mass of information is dealt with by the Putin regime over time, and how this might affect an already tense relationship between the Kremlin and the west.
The first time a large amount of information was leaked about Russia’s power system was in 2010, when a trove of US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks described a “virtual mafia state” and a system in which the Russian president allegedly used proxies to hide “illicit wealth”. These documents were damaging enough, detailing a kleptocratic authoritarian system where Russian officials, oligarchs and organised crime came together to amass large fortunes. At the time, the Kremlin dismissed this as “nothing interesting or worthy of comment”.
One key difference today is that the Panama Papers have emerged at a time when relations between Russia and the west are at an all-time low. When the WikiLeaks documents were published, the US and Russia were still officially in a “reset” phase, with pledges of cooperation on issues ranging from Afghanistan to nuclear disarmament. But since then, it’s all been downhill. The Russian government spoke earlier this year of a “new cold war”. Russian strategic bomber planes have flown over parts of Europe. Nato and the US are deploying new forces in the east of the continent. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine have led to western sanctions.
Along with low oil prices, this has put Russia’s economy under severe strain – with many analysts wondering whether that might lead to more aggressive ultra-nationalism in Moscow. Arguably, one key turning point, in this deterioration of relations with the west, came when the Russian regime accused Washington of stoking street demonstrations against the regime in 2011-12. (Continued: The Guardian)
Posted to Le Vif, L’express, Brussels, Belgium