MOSCOW (AP) - Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables portray Russia as a virtual "mafia state" where criminals work closely with the country's powerful security agencies, men enter the Kremlin lugging suitcases purportedly stuffed with cash and governors collect bribes as methodically as taxes.
The documents, part of a vast tranche of purloined communiques released by the Wikileaks website, suggest that corruption has metastasized through Russia. President Dmitry Medvedev has denounced corruption but without visible results.
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."
The spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called them"total nonsense" of doubtful authenticity, . Russia's response to the release of the cables that began this week has generally 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 portayal.
However, Putin sharply slapped at one of the first cables to be released, which portrayed Medvedev as like Robin to his Batman - a vivid characterization of the Russian president as submissive to the powerful premier, who is widely believed to still 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 splt 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.
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, Grinda believes that Russia's Federal Security Service and military intelligence effectively control the Russian mafia.
The cable also says Grinda claims to have information that some Russian political parties work "hand in glove" with organized crime.
Another, from February by U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle, 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.
--- Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)