Wikileaks Disappointment Syndrome

Writing on Foreign Policy/NPR, Julia Ioffe points out that pretty much everything revealed in the latest Wikileaks document dump is already well known, and not really a big deal in Russia.  No democracy?  That’s certainly news.  Virtual mafia state?  Well of course.  The biggest surprise of course is how little intelligence these diplomats have access to outside of the public record.  Judging by these leaks, they know only what you know.

What we learned, besides a few new shades and details, is that American diplomats in Moscow rely on a lot of the same sources Western journalists do in trying to decipher the Kremlin — sources like the Russian press, which is a lot more intrepid than the West gives it credit for. They also don’t seem to spend much time actually deciphering the Kremlin; mostly the cablers were preoccupied with the gossip coming from the bulldogs under the rug or the spiders in a jar or the “heads in a soup” or whatever metaphors such circles use. We discover, for instance, that Russian first lady Svetlana Medvedeva keeps a blacklist of bureaucrats who don’t respect her husband. Does that mean anything real, and do these chinovniki actually suffer for earning her wrath? Unclear. “I would ask whether there’s anything really sensational here, whether there’s anything here that isn’t already in the newspapers,” a Moscow source familiar with the situation but unable to comment officially on the leak, told me.  (…)

And while Obama may face political repercussions at home for the leakedinformation, on the Russian side no one really cares, given how littlenew information was revealed — except, of course, the fact that Chechenpresident and deranged boy-warrior Ramzan Kadyrov gives gold bullionas wedding gifts. We did not learn, for instance, anything new ordefinitive about how power is distributed between Medvedev’s Kremlin andPutin’s White House, about how Medvedev feels about his role in thetandem, or about his future ambitions — or whether anyone who matterscares. Given the banality of the disclosures, the Russians are likely torespond the way they know best: purging. “We will draw internalconclusions,” says Markov. “Most likely, they’ll look at the cables tosee who spoke a little too frankly with the Americans and a coupledepartment heads or deputy ministers will be fired.”