WikiLeaks on Luzhkov and Kremlin corruption

Give U.S. diplomats some credit for foresight. More than seven months before the unceremonious firing of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, U.S. embassy officials observed that his presence was becoming a liability for the Kremlin. A just WikiLeaked cable from Feb 12, 2010 reads (my emphasis):  Despite Medvedev’s stated anti-corruption campaign, the extent of corruption in ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
561184_luzhkov_0_02.jpg
561184_luzhkov_0_02.jpg

Give U.S. diplomats some credit for foresight. More than seven months before the unceremonious firing of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, U.S. embassy officials observed that his presence was becoming a liability for the Kremlin. A just WikiLeaked cable from Feb 12, 2010 reads (my emphasis): 

Despite Medvedev’s stated anti-corruption campaign, the extent of corruption in Moscow remains pervasive with Mayor Luzhkov at the top of the pyramid. Luzhkov oversees a system in which it appears that almost everyone at every level is involved in some form of corruption or criminal behavior. Putin and Medvedev’s dilemma is deciding when Luzhkov becomes a bigger liability than asset. While public sentiment against Luzhkov has grown since the “tainted” elections in October 2009, United Russia’s leadership knows that he has been a loyal supporter who can deliver voter support. Ousting Luzhkov before he is ready to go could create major difficulties because he could link others in the government to the corruption. While reforming Luzhkov’s questionable activities might seem like the right thing to do, for now keeping him in place, efficiently running the city, is United Russia’s best option. Ultimately, the tandem will put Luzhkov out to pasture, like it has done with fellow long-term regional leaders like Sverdlovsk oblast governor Edward Rossel and Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev.

Of course, the tension between Luzhkov and the Kremlin eventually came to a head in much faster and more dramatic fashion.

Give U.S. diplomats some credit for foresight. More than seven months before the unceremonious firing of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, U.S. embassy officials observed that his presence was becoming a liability for the Kremlin. A just WikiLeaked cable from Feb 12, 2010 reads (my emphasis): 

Despite Medvedev’s stated anti-corruption campaign, the extent of corruption in Moscow remains pervasive with Mayor Luzhkov at the top of the pyramid. Luzhkov oversees a system in which it appears that almost everyone at every level is involved in some form of corruption or criminal behavior. Putin and Medvedev’s dilemma is deciding when Luzhkov becomes a bigger liability than asset. While public sentiment against Luzhkov has grown since the “tainted” elections in October 2009, United Russia’s leadership knows that he has been a loyal supporter who can deliver voter support. Ousting Luzhkov before he is ready to go could create major difficulties because he could link others in the government to the corruption. While reforming Luzhkov’s questionable activities might seem like the right thing to do, for now keeping him in place, efficiently running the city, is United Russia’s best option. Ultimately, the tandem will put Luzhkov out to pasture, like it has done with fellow long-term regional leaders like Sverdlovsk oblast governor Edward Rossel and Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaymiyev.

Of course, the tension between Luzhkov and the Kremlin eventually came to a head in much faster and more dramatic fashion.

Allegations of corruption against Luzhkov aren’t going to knock anyone’s socks off at this point, but the cable will still likely raise eyebrows for its suggestion that the Kremlin is directly profiting from the activities of the Moscow underworld and using the proceeds for political purposes:

According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Luzhkov is following orders from the Kremlin to not go after Moscow’s criminal groups. For example, XXXXXXXXXXXX argued that it was only a public relations stunt from Putin to close gambling. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he did not see the sense in suitcases of money going into the Kremlin since it would be easier to open a secret account in Cyprus. He speculated that the Moscow police heads have a secret war chest of money. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that this money is likely used to solve problems that the Kremlin decides, such as rigging elections. It can be accessed as a resource for when orders come from above, for example, for bribes or to pay off people when necessary. XXXXXXXXXXXX postulated that the Kremlin might say to a governor that he can rule a certain territory but in exchange he must do what the Kremlin says.

Putin has already described the now famous "Batman and Robin" cable as "slanderous." This one seems far more serious.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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