Monday, December 13, 2010

Part 3 - After 12 days of WikiLeaks cables, the world looks on US with new eyes

Reaction across the globe to the leaked US embassy cables has ranged from anger and bitterness to extreme indifference

Pakistani demonstrators burn a US flag in support of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange during a rally in Multan. Photograph: Mohammad Malik/AFP/Getty Images

Europe



Russia

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave the sharpest response to the WikiLeaks cables in which he was protrayed as Batman to Dmitry Medvedev's Robin. "Slander", he called it. The embassy cables portray Russia as a corrupt kleptocracy where politicians and criminals were inextricably linked. Medvedev has said that the cables "show a full measure of cynicism" in US foreign policy making. But he suggested the leaks would not damage relations between Moscow and WashingtonSergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, claimed to be surprised that "some petty thieves running around the Internet" are causing such a sensation. In reality, the cables have caused lasting damage in Russia, playing to the deep mistrust of US intentions that imbues Kremlin policy making.

Poland

The cables revealed a battle of wits and mutual dissembling between Warsaw and Washington over US military aid to Poland, missile defence, and attitudes towards Russia. While the Poles welcomed secret Nato plans for the defence of the three Baltic states, they worried the new plan would dilute Nato security guarantees for Poland.

The disclosures appear to be sparking a sober re-assessment in Warsaw of the closeness of the relationship with Washington.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk sounded bitter and disenchanted on Tuesday after the Guardian published material on Poland.

"We have a really serious problem," he said. "Not with image, as some countries do, and not reputation, like the US does. It's a problem of being stripped of illusions about the nature of relations between countries, including such close allies as Poland and the US."

Italy

La Repubblica, one of Italy's best-selling dailies, on Wednesday carried the first in a series of articles examining the relationship between Silvio Berlusconi and Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, in the light of claims reported by the US state department cables that the Italian leader was profiting from gas deals between their two countries.

Newspapers and other media have given extensive coverage to the WikiLeaks disclosures. Berlusconi, who has denied any financial interest in Italy's energy dealings, was also embarrassed by a cable that quoted him as referring to Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev as an "apprentice". He insisted he never said it.

But in a country where the prime minister cannot be forced to answer to parliament and where attention is now focussed mainly on two parliamentary censure motions that could topple the Berlusconi administration next week, the political fall-out has been limited. Pierluigi Bersani, the leader of Italy's biggest opposition group, the Democratic party, said the cables showed that "the prime minister, with his behaviour and political decisions, harms the reputation of Italy in the world."

But, for the most part, opposition politicians have heeded a warning from Berlusconi's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, not to exploit the cables for political purposes.

Austria

The cables show a rather withering US contempt for Austria and its leading politicians, with US diplomats complaining that Washington has little leverage in Vienna because the government there is barely interested in developing relations with the US. The social democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann, is described as a leader with scant interest in foreign affairs. The foreign minister, Michael Spindelegger, is preoccupied with promoting Austrian business. And Austria, constitutionally neutral and not in Nato, is criticised for resisting US pressure to send forces to Afghanistan.

Norbert Darabos, the defence minister, described the US criticism as "inexplicable", and said Austria would not increase its contribution to Afghanistan beyond the five policemen it has sent.

A leading Austrian Greens MP, Peter Pilz, proposed that the country should grant Julian Assange political asylum.

Kazakhstan

US cables described the peccadilloes of the Kazakh elite, including the 40-horse stable of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president, a private Elton John concert for a top politician and an extraordinary midnight dance by the prime minister at a nightclub called Chocolat. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, was at pains to privately apologise to several world leaders who were pilloried in the disclosures.

Turkmenistan

In perhaps the baldest character assassination of any world leader in the WikiLeaks cables, a US diplomat reported to Washington that president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan is seen as "vain, fastidious, vindictive, a micro-manager," a "practised liar" and "not a very bright guy". In keeping with the country's insular regime, the charge provoked little reaction.

Georgia

Disclosures about the Caucasus state were a mixed bag. As the New York Times noted, they showed US diplomats' catastrophic failure to recognise that Mikhail Saakashvili, the president, was planning to attack the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia in 2008. But they also concluded that before the conflict Russia had been "aggressively playing a high-stakes covert game" in an attempt to provoke Georgia into retaliation. Giga Bokeria, secretary of Georgia's national security council, toed Washington's line in his assessment of the WikiLeaks releases. "It is very cynical when one, under the guise of a martyr, fights against the greatest democracy [the US] using such prohibited methods," he said of Julian Assange, in televised comments.

Kyrgyzstan

Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, was the setting for Prince Andrew's infamous rant about geographically-challenged Americans and snooping "(expletive) journalists, especially from the National Guardian." At a meeting with the prince, Tatiana Gfoeller, the US ambassador to Bishkek, decided he was a victim of "neuralgic patriotism" whose behaviour "verged on the rude". Kyrgyzstan's leadership has been silent on that sharp assessment, while local media have been more interested in claims that China offered the country a $3bn (£1.9bn) aid package if it would close the Manas airbase, which the US uses to supply its troops in Afghanistan.

Moldova

According to the WikiLeaks documents, Moldova's then president, Vladimir Voronin, offered a $10m (£6.4m) bribe to a rival in 2009 in a desperate attempt to keep his communist government in power. A leading member of Voronin's party, Mark Tkachuk, told reporters the claims were "fairy tales" and "low-life gossip".

by guardian

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