WikiLeaks reveals sensitive U.S. talks.
Firtash, Mogilevich ties
In a Dec. 8, 2008, meeting, then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor allegedly wrote that gas-trading Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash told of needing permission from alleged Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich to do business in Ukraine during the lawless 1990s. Firtash denied the remarks.
Russia’s Batman and Robin
U.S. diplomatic cables describe Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) as playing “Robin” to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s “Batman” and speculate about Putin’s wealth in the nation described as a “virtual mafia state.”
Libyan leader likes Ukrainian ‘nurses’
Muammar el-Qaddafi, the eccentric Libyan dictator, is described in leaked U.S. diplomatic reports as having a staff of four Ukrainian “nurses” and never traveling without his senior one, Galyna Kolotnytska, to take care of his needs.
U.S. diplomats describe ties between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe.
U.S. Defense Secrety Robert Gates wrote on Feb. 8: “Russian democracy has disappeared and the government is an oligarchy run by the security services.“
A wild wedding
A U.S. diplomat invited to a wedding in Russia’s Dagestan describes a drunken party where guests threw wads of $100 bills at child dancers.
One of the guests, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, reportedly danced clumsily with a gold-plated automatic gun and gave the happy couple five kilograms of gold.
WikiLeaks reveals sensitive U.S. talks
BY PETER BYRNE, MARK RACHKEVYCH AND JAMES MARSON
Whistleblower website WikiLeaks published a slew of U.S. State Department cables that shed light on foreign diplomacy toward Ukraine, the transit of Russian gas to the European Union via Ukraine, and the partiality of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi for blonde Ukrainian nurses.
While some 1,139 diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv have yet to be published, messages from other embassies give a revealing insight into the behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Ukraine.
With the Kyiv communications still to come, and only a small percentage of more than 250,000 previously secret or confidential messages so far released publicly, there is likely to be plenty more revealed in the coming months.
Cables authored outside Ukraine published by WikiLeaks by Dec. 2 detailed how:
- Britain’s Prince Andrew told the U.S. ambassador in Bishkek that Russia had pressured Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and other regional leaders not to recognize Ukraine’s 1932-3 Holodomor famine as an act of genocide;
Do you understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state,”
- Vladimir Putin, Russian prime minister
- the U.S. raised concerns with senior Russian officials about Moscow’s respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders, suggesting that it posed a threat to the “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations;
- France opposed offering Ukraine an action plan toward membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2008, citing an unwillingness among members to defend it from external attack, which the U.S. suggested pointed to de facto French support for a Russian “sphere of influence.”
The cables released by WikiLeaks date from Dec. 28, 1966, to Feb. 28, 2010, and were authored by diplomats at 274 embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions across the world. According to statistical information published on its website, about 1,800 communiqués discuss Ukraine. Iraq is the most frequently mentioned state, in 15,365 reports, of which 6,677 originated from the country. Turkey, Iran, Israel and China were the next-most frequently discussed countries.
Moscow-based Russian Reporter news site published a few of 200 cables which its editor said it had received from WikiLeaks. Some of these give details of U.S. reactions to the Russia-Georgia war in 2008; one message suggests that Russian state gas company Gazprom asked alleged crime boss Semyon Mogilevich to oversee natural gas deliveries from Russia to Ukraine via gas intermediary RosUkrEnergo. All parties deny connections with Mogilevich.
Russia threatens Ukraine
A picture emerges from the cables of the U.S. frequently sticking up for Ukraine in Moscow and warning Russia to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Russian Reporter published a cable authored by Kurt Volker, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, following the August 2008 full-scale Russian invasion of Georgia, which seems to confirm reports of Putin questioning Ukraine’s borders.
In April 2008, Putin was widely reported to have scolded then-U.S. President George W. Bush, who pushed Ukraine’s NATO membership ambitions despite strong Russian opposition. “Do you understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state,” Putin allegedly told Bush then during a heated exchange.
The German-led allies argue that the Bucharest decision on eventual membership provoked the Russian aggression, while most others (including the new members and Canada) see it as we do: that Russia interpreted the denial of MAP [Membership Action Plan] as a green light for action against Georgia,”
- Kurt Volker, the U.S. ambassador to NATO
At the April 4, 2008, NATO-Russia Council Summit in Bucharest, the cable reads: Putin “implicitly challenged the territorial integrity of Ukraine, suggesting that Ukraine was an artificial creation sewn together from territory of Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, and especially Russia in the aftermath of the Second World War. He stated, ‘the Crimea was simply given to Ukraine by a decision of the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee. There haven't even been any state procedures regarding transfer of the territory, since we take a very calm and responsible approach to the problem.’ Putin claimed that 90 percent of inhabitants of the Crimea are Russian, 17 out of 45 million Ukrainian citizens are Russian, and that Ukraine gained enormous amounts of its territory from the east and south at the expense of Russia. He added, ‘if we add in the NATO question and other problems, the very existence of the state could find itself under threat.’”
Volker added that Putin’s comments “take on profound new meaning in light of Russian military actions in Georgia. … NATO needs to be mindful of the connective tissue between events in Georgia, Putin’s threatening language on the territorial integrity of its neighbors, and Ukraine’s (and Georgia’s) MAP [Membership Action Plan] aspirations.”
Ukraine and Georgia had been denied a Membership Action Plan at NATO’s summit in Bucharest in April 2008, but were told that they “will become members.”
Volker discusses the split between NATO allies over why Russia acted in Georgia: “The German-led allies argue that the Bucharest decision on eventual membership provoked the Russian aggression, while most others (including the new members and Canada) see it as we do: that Russia interpreted the denial of MAP [Membership Action Plan] as a green light for action against Georgia.”
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Alexander Vershbow last year again raised concerns with senior Russian officials over Moscow’s respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders, suggesting this could damage attempts to reset U.S.-Russian relations.
In the Oct. 6, 2009 message, Vershbow criticized as “counter-productive” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s vitriolic open letter of August 2009, which attacked then-Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko’s “anti-Russian” policies.
The cable followed meetings between Vershbow and a number of senior Russian officials. According to the communication “Vershbow emphasized that Russia's efforts to assert a regional sphere of influence posed a threat to the reset in bilateral relations, and reiterated the U.S. commitment to the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Georgia, Ukraine and other partners in the region.” He added that the U.S. didn’t see Russian-Ukrainian relations as a “zero-sum game.”
The cable continues that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin responded that “Ukraine is Russia's closest neighbor, and is a ‘key partner’ in international activities. Russia is not trying to influence Ukraine, but wants a stable Ukraine and a secure neighborhood. He also said that Russia cannot ignore attempts to depict it as a major threat to Ukraine.”
Concerns over Russian threat
More than 100 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables were released concerning the five-day military conflict between Georgia and Russia in August 2008.
Originating mostly from Tbilisi, Georgia and other diplomatic posts, the cables showed the fight was not Georgia’s original intention and chronicled how the conflict sent shockwaves around the world.
“Georgian military officials have privately expressed deep disappointment with the U.S. and the West for not providing more support against the Russian attack,”
- WikiLeaks cable
“All the evidence available to the country team supports [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili’s statement that this fight was not Georgia’s original intention,” reads a cable by former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, John F. Tefft, who is now posted in Kyiv. “Key Georgian officials who would have had responsibility for an attack on South Ossetia have been on leave, and the Georgians only began mobilizing Aug. 7 once the attack was well under way.”
They also showed how quickly the geopolitical reality changed in the region and amplified Ukraine’s precarious position given that Russia used vessels from its Black Sea Fleet leased from Ukraine in Sevastopol during its assault on Georgia and the fact that Ukraine had supplied Georgia with air defense systems and arms.
They furthermore contrasted Ukraine’s lack of military security in comparison with other countries securely in NATO and part of the European Union who denounced Russia’s aggression and lamented the dangerous precedent Russia set for using force when protecting “its citizens” in other countries.
Russia has discredited itself as a peacekeeper in the “near abroad” and its justification of “protecting its citizens” is a worrying precedent, read one cable.
The cables point to European Union and NATO countries scrambling to respond with a unified voice. They demonstrated how older EU countries were more cautious in denouncing Russia’s “disproportionate” response to Georgia’s provoked attack of South Ossetia and how former Soviet satellite countries and republics like Poland, Slovakia and the three Baltic countries had called for more stern public diplomacy actions against Russia’s use of force during its land, sea and air assault of Georgian territory.
“Georgian military officials have privately expressed deep disappointment with the U.S. and the West for not providing more support against the Russian attack,” read one cable.
Several cables mentioned how newer EU countries like Poland were using Russia’s aggression as a reason for promoting Ukraine’s NATO accession and give it a “membership action plan” at a Budapest summit later in 2008.
“Not surprisingly, the two camps drew different lessons for Ukraine: one urged rapid NATO membership, while the other called for neutrality and warned against provoking Russia,” a cable stated.
“In response to a question, [Latvian State Secretary] Normans Penke said that NATO must move faster on MAP for Ukraine and he hoped that events in Georgia also spurred Ukraine to ‘finish its homework,’” said a cable from Latvia.
The outcome of the Russia-Georgia war scuttled any hopes Ukraine and Georgia had for NATO membership as Russia cemented its claim to the region as its sphere of influence.
[Latvian State Secretary] Normans Penke said that NATO must move faster on MAP for Ukraine and he hoped that events in Georgia also spurred Ukraine to ‘finish its homework,"
Russia’s Holodomor threats
- WikiLeaks cable
Ukrainians learn in another brief, dated Oct. 29, 2008, that Russia pressured Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and other regional leaders in 2008 to not recognize the Holodomor famine, which killed millions in 1932-1933, as genocide against the Ukrainian people.
According to a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Britain’s Prince Andrew, a frequent visitor to the region, said that Aliyev had received a letter from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “telling him that if Azerbaijan supported the designation of the Bolshevik artificial famine in Ukraine as ‘genocide’ at the United Nations, ‘then you can forget about seeing Nagorno-Karabakh ever again.’"'
Nagorno-Karabakh is a separatist region on Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia.
Prince Andrew said other leaders had received similar “directive” letters.
The interventions by Medvedev are evidence of the extraordinary lengths that the Kremlin was prepared to go to in order to prevent international recognition for the Stalin-ordered famine, which claimed most of its starvation victims in Ukraine, whose rural residents resisted Soviet collectivization.
Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko campaigned at home and abroad for acknowledgement of Holodomor as genocide, a move opposed by Russia. The debate was a major factor in spats between the two presidents, as Yushchenko defined Ukraine’s history in ways that were sharply at odds with Soviet and Russian interpretations, at least under Putin.
If Azerbaijan supported the designation of the Bolshevik artificial famine in Ukraine as ‘genocide’ at the United Nations, ‘then you can forget about seeing Nagorno-Karabakh ever again."
- Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president
France dents Ukraine NATO hopes
One cable from Paris reveals French reasoning behind its failure to support Ukraine’s NATO aspirations.
A senior French government adviser told the United States in 2008 that it would “not have a great appetite” for offering Ukraine an action plan for membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
According to the message, Philippe Errera, strategic affairs adviser to then-French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, told Joseph Wood, deputy assistant to the U.S. vice president for national security affairs, that offering a Membership Action Plan (MAP) would be a “serious decision” because of NATO’s Article 5, which treats attack on one member as an attack on all.
He added that “NATO may not be ready for Article 5 guarantees to Georgia either.”
Wood responded that France’s “hesitation regarding Article 5 commitments implies a de facto ‘sphere of influence,’ because Russia is the only possible menace to Ukraine or Georgia.”
The exchange, dated January 2008, shows the divergence of views between leading NATO members ahead of the organization’s summit in Bucharest in April that year.
As a result of the summit, both Ukraine and Georgia were told they “will become members of NATO” but were not offered a MAP or given a concrete date.
Then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko attempts to gain a MAP were strongly backed by U.S. counterpart George W. Bush, but resistance was reportedly met from France and Germany.
A leader’s taste
Qaddafi and the 38-year-old Kolotnytska have a romantic relationship,"
- Gene A. Cretz, U.S. ambassador to Tripoli
On a lighter note, a brief authored on Sept. 29, 2009 by the U.S. ambassador in Tripoli, details information received by U.S. diplomats that that Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi is accompanied on trips by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
Gene A. Cretz, U.S. ambassador to Tripoli, wrote that Qaddafi “relies heavily on his long-time Ukrainian nurse, Galyna Kolotnytska, who has been described as a ‘voluptuous blonde.’” She is said to be one of four Ukrainian nurses who travel with the Libyan leader to “cater to [his] health and well-being.”
The cable hints at romantic ties between Qaddafi and Kolotnytska.
“Some embassy contacts have claimed that Qadhafi (sic) and the 38-year-old Kolotnytska have a romantic relationship. While he did not comment on such rumors, a Ukrainian political officer recently confirmed that the Ukrainian nurses ‘travel everywhere with the Leader,’” Cretz wrote.
The cable describes how Qaddafi cannot travel without Kolotnytska, “as she alone ‘knows his routine.’” In one incident detailed in the communication, arrangements were made to ferry the nurse by private jet from Libya to Portugal to meet Qaddafi during a rest-stop on his trip to the U.S.