The Cable

WikiLeaked cable from Bob Gates: ‘Russian democracy has disappeared’

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates sat down with French Minister of Defense Herve Morin Feb. 8 in Paris, he had a harsh assessment of the Russian government and some severe differences with his French counterpart on several issues of international security. "SecDef (Gates) observed that Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates sat down with French Minister of Defense Herve Morin Feb. 8 in Paris, he had a harsh assessment of the Russian government and some severe differences with his French counterpart on several issues of international security.

"SecDef (Gates) observed that Russian democracy has disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services," read a cable about the meeting classified by Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow and leaked to the self described whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The website posted Sunday just over 200 of the over 250,000 sensitive State Department documents it claims to have in its possession.

"President [Dmitry] Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin, but there has been little real change," Gates told Morin, according to the cable.

Gates was pressing Morin to rethink the French sale of the amphibious assault ship the Mistral to Russia, a sale that several NATO member countries and the country of Georgia loudly protested around the time of the meeting. The cable details how strongly Gates pressed the French on the issue and how strongly he was rebuffed.

Gates’ comments about the Russian leadership were an attempt to explain why he and many central and eastern European countries couldn’t accept Morin’s statement that the West must trust the Russians when they claimed the ship would not be used for aggressive purposes. In fact, Morin told Gates that he personally pushed hard for the sale, despite that Russia has not lived up to its agreements following its 2008 war with Georgia. Ultimately, the sale of the Mistral went through and U.S. officials never publicly condemned it.

Gates’ frank analysis of the Russian government matches the take of top Russian opposition leaders, such as Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who told Foreign Policy last month that, "We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken from the people by the authorities."

But the comments go far beyond what top U.S. officials have said in public about their concerns of the retreat of democracy and good governance in Russia. In a separate cable sent in late 2008, the U.S. embassy in Moscow reported that Medvedev "plays Robin to Putin’s Batman," the Guardian reported.

In their February meeting, Morin told Gates that expanding NATO to include Georgia would weaken NATO Article 5, which provides for a common defense. In response to that remark, Gates "stated his preference for NATO to focus its efforts in the Euro-Atlantic area, perhaps extending into the Mediterranean," the cable stated.

The cable also reveals how strongly the French defense minister opposed U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe, especially the drive to link the plans with NATO, as was codified at the Lisbon summit only last week. Morin said the Obama administration’s new plan would "give publics a false sense of security," and argued for a system based more on deterrence. He asked Gates who the system was aimed at and told Gates European countries don’t have "infinite" funds to spend on such a system.

Gates replied that the system did add to deterrence and would have increased the capability as opposed to the Bush administration’s plan. The new scheme also allowed Russian participation, which was impossible under the previous design, he said.

On Iran, Gates told Morin that Israel had the capability of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, but "he didn’t know if they would be successful." He also told Morin that even a successful Israeli strike would only delay Iran’s nuclear program "by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker."

Read the full cable after the jump:

Reference ID





2010-02-12 13:01


Embassy Paris




DE RUEHFR #0170/01 0431349


R 121349Z FEB 10 ZDK










S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 000170





E.O. 12598  DECL: 02/12/20





PARIS 00000170  001.2 OF 004



Classified By: Alexander Vershbow, ASD/ISA. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).


Ref: USNATO 56


1. (S/NF) SUMMARY:  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (SecDef) was

hosted by French Minister of Defense Herve Morin for a working lunch

during an official bilateral visit to Paris on February 8, 2010.

SecDef and Morin agreed on the basic themes to be included in NATO’s

revised Strategic Concept.  On Missile Defense, SecDef refuted Morin’s

contention that a European Missile Defense system is both unwise and

unnecessary but pledged to give France and other Allies better

information on the costs and command and control structure of the U.S.

proposal.  Both Morin and Gates agreed that Iran’s rejection of an

engagement track meant that the time for pressure had arrived, but both

noted concern over China’s opposition to a new UN Security Council

Resolution (UNSCR).  On Afghanistan, SecDef praised French

contributions and highlighted ongoing trainer shortfalls.  SecDef

raised U.S. concerns over the sale of a Mistral-class helicopter

carrier to Russia as sending a mixed signal to both Russia and our

Central and East European Allies.  Morin refuted this idea, arguing

that the sale was a way to send a message of partnership to Russia at a

critical time.  Morin requested that the upcoming U.S. Air Force

Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new in-flight refueling tanker

aircraft be unbiased.  SecDef told Morin that he had full confidence

that the RFP would be as fair as possible.   END SUMMARY.



NATO Strategic Concept



2. (S/NF) Morin welcomed SecDef to France and asked about U.S positions

regarding the revised NATO Strategic Concept.  Morin noted France’s

interest in a document that would inject new ideas, be adopted with

great momentum, and define NATO’s roles and missions. It should not

just be a restatement of the conventional wisdom.


3. (S/NF) SecDef told Morin he favored a short document that was

perhaps three to five pages in length.  The Strategic Concept should

move NATO from a traditional defensive alliance to a security alliance

that can address a wide range of global threats.  SecDef said that the

Strategic Concept must better align resources with NATO’s level of

ambition; it must lay out a comprehensive approach to civil-military

cooperation and enhance partnerships with the EU, UN and other

international organizations.  SecDef concluded that, above all,

financial and broader structural reform must be pursued — either as

part of the Strategic Concept or in parallel.


4. (S/NF) Morin agreed on length and the need for NATO to take on new

missions, but he wondered what types of missions members had in mind.

Cyber attacks?  Terrorism?  Proliferation?  Missile Defense?  Morin

also stated his belief that NATO needed to bring some clarity to its

area of operation so that NATO did not end up extending to the Pacific.

He added that, in his view, extending the Alliance to Georgia would

weaken Article 5.  SecDef stated his preference for NATO to focus its

efforts in the Euro-Atlantic area, perhaps extending into the

Mediterranean.  He concurred with Morin that a bigger Alliance posed



5. (S//NF) Morin told SecDef that the UK MoD had proposed drafting a

joint French-UK proposal on NATO reform to then present to the U.S.

Noting that the objective was to overcome blockages from those

countries that had underwhelming General Staffs, Morin asked whether

SecDef thought it would be better for Europe to build consensus at home

and work its own ideas, or for Europe and the United States to develop

joint proposals.  SecDef replied that he thought it best not to have

two proposals, but that he would consult with SecState.  He also said

he hoped that the Senior Officials Group would come up with some

concrete and viable ideas for reform.



Missile Defense



6. (S/NF) Morin, having expressed strong reservations to new U.S. and

NATO missile defense (MD) plans at the NATO ministerial in Istanbul

(reftel), said he wanted to explain how France sees MD and raise some

questions.  First, he believes that the shift from Theater Missile

Defense (TMD) to defense of populations and territory will give publics

a false sense of security, since the sword was ultimately stronger than

the shield.  For France, security came from strong defense and

deterrence.  Second, Morin asked what threat the system aims to

counter.  Nuclear states or rogue states?  Third, Morin asked about

funding and how European countries would participate in command and

control (C2) decisions.  Morin summarized his own personal opposition

to MD by asserting that the U.S. and Europe have differing mentalities

on defense spending.  He said the U.S. has true resiliency with


PARIS 00000170  002.2 OF 004



"infinite" means, while in Europe defense spending has collapsed in

every country but the UK and France.  As a result, any development

needing common funding will dilute the already weak European defenses.

Morin concluded by stating that it was folly to assume that MD would

give us added security.


7. (S/NF) SecDef refuted Morin’s arguments, pointing out that MD

contributes to deterrence.  SecDef explained to Morin that the system

was aimed at nations with a handful of nuclear weapons and a limited

but growing missile capability to launch them.  Noting Iran fits that

profile, SecDef said that MD provides a good deterrent against limited



8. (S/NF) SecDef agreed with MoD Morin that the U.S. owed NATO answers

on C2, costs, and the role of common funding.  He pledged to provide

more details on these issues, as well as on how ALTBMD and the U.S.

Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) fit together.  However, SecDef said it

was important to move ahead with the MD study that was endorsed at the

2009 NATO summit, since it would provide some of the answers France was

seeking.  SecDef reminded Morin that POTUS will want to obtain a

decision affirming the Alliance role in MD at the Lisbon summit in late



9. (S/NF) Responding to SecDef’s discussion of MD, Morin asked why

there was a need to shift from theater to population defense.  SecDef

said the systems the U.S. was deploying have broader applications.  For

example the THAAD system, which the U.S. had deployed to Hawaii as a

measure against North Korean threat, protects both the theater and the

population.  Gates offered the Aegis ship-borne SM-3, which was used to

shoot down a defunct satellite, as a second example of a system that

could also have broader applications and deter Iran from holding us

hostage by threatening missile launches.


10. (S/NF) Recalling that Russian Prime Minister Putin once told him

Iran was Russia’s greatest threat, SecDef noted that Russia could plug

into the new system.  SecDef highlighted two Russian objections to the

former system:  first, the radar in the Czech Republic would have been

so powerful that it could see into Russia; second, Russia believed that

the three-stage Ground-Based Interceptor could have been converted

easily to an offensive weapon.  The SM-3 missiles in the new approach

can only be defensive in nature, however.  For these reasons, the U.S.

believed partnering with Russia is once again potentially possible.

(NOTE:  Following the meetings, Morin’s critical comments on Missile

Defense were disavowed by senior officials at the MoD and the MFA, who

said that his views were his own and that the U.S. should essentially

"erase" what he had just said.  END NOTE.)






11. (S/NF) Shifting from Missile Defense to Iran, SecDef noted that

Russia is now of a different mind on Iran because of Tehran’s

persistent rejection of international proposals for negotiated

solutions and its concealment of the Qom facility.  SecDef believed

Russia would be supportive of a new UNSCR, although it may have

different views on the severity of sanctions, but he expressed concern

about China.  SecDef said that Russia could perhaps help on China, but

that securing the support of other non-permanent Security Council

members was also an issue.  In this regard, SecDef told Morin he had

been blunt with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, telling him that if

Iran developed nuclear weapons, we were facing two scenarios:  nuclear

proliferation in the Middle East or a regional war (or perhaps both).


12. (S/NF) Morin asked SecDef if he believed Israel had the capability

to strike Iran without U.S. support.  SecDef responded that he didn’t

know if they would be successful, but that Israel could carry out the

operation.  SecDef told Morin that he believed a conventional strike by

any nation would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while

unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the



13. (S/NF) MoD Morin agreed that China could be problematic on the

UNSCR and queried SecDef how the U.S. believed we could ensure their

vote, especially in light of the upcoming Dalai Lama visit and the U.S.

weapons sale to Taiwan.  SecDef told Morin that because of

Congressionally mandated rules, the U.S. was required to provide

defensive weapons for Taiwan.  He observed that every time the U.S.

makes the sales to Taiwan, the Chinese suspend military-to-military

relations, but only for the short term.






14. (S/NF) Morin expressed doubt about the willingness of the Pakistani


PARIS 00000170  003 OF 004



government to fight extremists at home.  He noted that Karzai had told

the French that if the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were closed, it

would largely solve issues in Afghanistan.  SecDef replied that he had

told the Pakistani government two weeks earlier that Al Qaeda was

helping the Pakistan Taliban to destabilize Pakistan.  SecDef

highlighted the dramatic changes in Pakistan over the past 18 months,

especially in Swat and Bajaur provinces, which offered some hope of

progress.  SecDef said that there was increasing coordination between

U.S. and Pakistani forces across the border.






15. (S/NF) Turning to Afghanistan, MoD Morin began by stating that

although he had announced an additional 80 trainers, France had also

sent a non-official contribution as well.  (NOTE:  Morin was referring

to a classified deployment of French Special Forces that have a limited

mission to find two kidnapped French journalists. END NOTE.)  France

had also sent an additional deployment of engineers to work exclusively

on the Counter-IED mission.  Morin underscored that France had

significantly increased its contributions in Afghanistan in the past 18

months from 2700 troops to nearly 4000.


16. (S/NF) SecDef said the U.S. understood the domestic situation and

that he would not have pressed France publicly for more forces until

after the March elections.  However SecDef requested that France

strongly consider substantially increasing military and police

trainers.  SecDef said that while he would publicly praise French

troops, which U.S. troops consider terrific fighters, he was fine with

keeping these discussions close hold.


17. (S/NF) Shifting topics, Morin questioned the decision to

specifically name mid-2011 as the start of a withdrawal, which Morin

thought would simply make the Taliban wait it out.  SecDef noted that

whether to set a date for transition had led to one of the most

protracted debates in Washington in recent months.  SecDef had come to

the conclusion, however, that the Afghans needed to be put on notice

that they would need to take responsibility for their own security.  He

pointed out that there is no end date for U.S. involvement; July 2011

is just the beginning of a process.  POTUS was very clear that the

transition would be conditions-based.  Morin agreed with this and urged

that clear benchmarks be set that could reassure public opinion.

SecDef concurred and observed that the U.S. public will not tolerate a

prolonged stalemate.






18. (S/NF) SecDef expressed U.S. concerns about the Mistral sale to

Russia.  He told Morin that because of Sarkozy’s involvement in

brokering a ceasefire in Georgia, which Russia was not fully honoring,

the sale would send the wrong message to Russia and to our Allies in

Central and East Europe.


19. (S/NF) Morin told SecDef pointedly that he had pushed hard for the

sale.  He conceded that it was indeed a warship for power projection.

But Morin asked rhetorically how we can tell Russia we desire

partnership but then not trust them.  Morin told SecDef that he

understood the U.S. position on considering Central and East European

Allies’ concerns about the perceived threat from Russia.  Morin argued,

however, that this single ship would not make any difference with

respect to Russian capabilities, as Russia’s naval production ability

was severely degraded.


20. (S/NF) SecDef replied that U.S. concerns were not about military

capacity but about messaging.  Some allies, because of their past

experiences, are still very concerned with Russia and are not sure how

much to trust the West.  SecDef observed that Russian democracy has

disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the security

services.  President Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia

than PM Putin, but there has been little real change.



KC-X Tanker RFP



21. (S/NF) Morin told SecDef he had one final, but major, topic to

raise, the U.S. contract tender for a new tanker plane.  He asked that

the RFP be issued so that competition was equal for both companies and

there was no bias.  Morin stressed that it was important for our market

economy to be a two-way street.  He told SecDef that if the terms of

competition are unequal, EADS would not submit a bid.


22. (S/NF) SecDef stated his belief that the RFP would be fair.  He


PARIS 00000170  004 OF 004



told Morin that the Air Force had established the requirements.  He

noted that since the previous competition, he had fired both the

civilian and military leaders of the Air Force and that there was a new

person in charge of the Pentagon’s acquisition policy.  SecDef said

that it would be disappointing if EADS did not submit a proposal.


23. (U) SecDef has cleared this cable.  Drafted by OSD Staff.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola