(si consiglia di usare un traduttore Google) Testo da The Guardian:
US diplomats have reported startling suspicions that Silvio Berlusconi could be “profiting personally and handsomely” from secret deals with the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, according to cables released by WikiLeaks.
Exasperated by Berlusconi’s pro-Russian behaviour, American embassy staff detail allegations circulating in Rome that the Italian leader has been promised a cut of huge energy contracts.
The two men are known to be personally close, but this is the first time allegations of a financial link have surfaced.
Hillary Clinton’s state department in Washington sent a special request to the Rome embassy this year, asking for extra intelligence-gathering on the allegations about the men: “What personal investments, if any, do they have that might drive their foreign or economic policies?”.
References to Berlusconi’s “financially enriching relationship” originated both from members of his own political party and from the hostile government of Georgia, according to the leaked cables.
The US ambassador in Rome, Ronald Spogli, first reported the claims in a series of dispatches in 2008-09. He said the prime minister had taken “single-handed” control of Italy’s dealings with Moscow, with the over-riding aim of pleasing the Russian leader.
Berlusconi acted as a “mouthpiece” for Putin, he reported, supporting him in public when Russia was being criticised.
Personal ties between the two were close, “with Putin’s family spending long visits at the Berlusconi family mansion in Sardinia at Berlusconi’s expense”. Berlusconi in turn has the rare privilege of being invited to Putin’s dacha in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for what the embassy speculated on one occasion would be a “blow-out party”. A contact in Berlusconi’s office told the embassy of “exchanges of lavish gifts”.
In January 2009, according to the leaked cables, Spogli wrote it was “hard to determine” the basis of the Berlusconi-Putin friendship. “Berlusconi admires Putin’s macho, decisive and authoritarian governing style, which the Italian PM believes matches his own”.
However, “contacts in both the opposition centre-left Partito Democratico and Berlusconi’s own PdL party … have hinted at a more nefarious connection. They believe that Berlusconi and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia.”
Spogli continued: “The Georgian ambassador in Rome has told us that the government of Georgia believes Putin has promised Berlusconi a percentage of profits from any pipelines developed by Gazprom in co-ordination with ENI.”
The Italian energy conglomerate is partially owned by the Italian government. It works in close collaboration with state-controlled Gazprom, the energy giant which sells Russian gas and oil abroad.
Details of the allegations began to surface last night and were covered extensively by the Italian media this morning. Berlusconi denied the claims in the cables. Currently on a visit to Kazakhstan, he told the Ansa news agency: “The [United States] is quite clear that I have absolutely no interest in any other country; that there are absolutely no personal interests, and that I only look after the interests of the Italians and my country.”
But his denial did not satisfy opposition representatives who called for him to make a statement to parliament. Dario Franceschini, chief whip in the lower house of Italy’s biggest opposition group, the Democratic party, defied Bersluconi to deny the allegations. “We hope that those claims are not true. In any event, the prime minister should come to parliament to deny them next week,” he said.
Though the episode is not referred to in the cables, Berlusconi has publicly counselled Italians to buy ENI shares. On 10 October 2008, when the US credit crunch was at its height, Italy’s prime minister surprised financial observers.
According to Ansa, he told a press conference in Naples: “It’s the moment to buy ENI and [another Italian energy giant] Enel, both of which are undervalued.” In particular, he said, ENI “will this year make extraordinary profits”.
The private views of Georgian government sources were accurately relayed by the US embassy, according to Guardian inquiries. But neither Georgia nor the US record any concrete proof of their suspicion.
Spogli wrote: “Whenever we raise the issue of Russia and the P with our contacts in PdL, Berlusconi’s own party, they have usually pointed us to Valentino Valentini, a member of parliament and somewhat shadowy figure who operates as Berlusconi’s key man on Russia, albeit with no staff or even a secretary. Valentini, a Russian-speaker who travels to Russia several times a month, frequently appears at Berlusconi’s side when he meets other world leaders. What he does in Moscow during his frequent visits is unclear but he is widely rumoured to be looking after Berlusconi’s business interests in Russia.”
Elsewhere the US describes Valentini as Berlusconi’s “unofficial intermediary/bagman”.
After the allegations were published, Valentini dismissed them as “corridor chatter”. He said: “Leaving aside certain mischievous headlines, you only have to read in their entirety the reports leaked by WikiLeaks to understand what they are: [the] corridor chatter of politics and diplomacy; partial and inaccurate information that has been raised to the level of confidential news. In fact, there is nothing mysterious about the relations between Italy and Russia, as I have several times had the opportunity to argue directly to ambassador Spogli in the course of numerous lunches at his residence, Villa Taverna.”
Valentini said that Spogli had omitted to note in his reports that until 2006 he had an official position representing Italian companies in Russia, where “it is known to all that I have good relations and friendships”.
The relationship between Putin and Berlusconi was also the subject of a long dispatch sent in November 2008 by the US ambassador to Condoleezza Rice, the then secretary of state, to prepare her for a meeting with the Italian prime minister.
“Berlusconi’s close personal (and, some suspect, financial) relationship with Putin has led him to champion unquestioningly every initiative the Kremlin has rolled out. Italy’s Russia policy is his personal game, one which he conducts on a tactical basis to gain the trust and favour of his Russian interlocutors. He consistently rejects the strategic advice of his demoralised, resource-starved and increasingly irrelevant foreign ministry in favour of his business cronies, many of whom are deeply dug into Russia’s European energy strategy.”
Italy’s foreign ministry contained “only one full-time diplomat assigned to cover Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union”. In the office of the diplomatic adviser to the prime minister, the official responsible for Russia was “a mid-level diplomat who is in the process of being transferred”. He added: “No replacement is likely to be named.”
An Italian contact later told the Americans that they “only learn of conversations between [prime minister] Berlusconi and [prime minister] Putin after the fact, and with little detail or background”, leaving diplomats “in the dark”.
Spogli reported in another cable that Berlusconi conducted “his own brand of foreign policy … as a way of gaining favour with his Russian interlocutors, with whom many (including his own party officials) suspect he has a personally and financially enriching relationship”.
The ambassador similarly briefed Dick Cheney, the then US vice-president, before his visit to Rome, that Putin and Berlusconi shared “mutual commercial interests”.
In June last year, President Obama was briefed ahead of Berlusconi’s arrival in Washington. Elizabeth Dibble, deputy chief of mission, reported: “Dependence on Russian energy, lucrative and frequently non-transparent business dealings between Italy and Russia, and a close personal relationship between Berlusconi and Putin have distorted [Berlusconi’s] view to the point that he believes much of the friction between the west and Russia has been caused by the US and Nato.”
US diplomats repeatedly make clear their anger at “a string of inflammatory” declarations by Berlusconi in favour of Putin and urging a softer line with Russia. Berlusconi, they say, has “tried to derail US-led efforts to contain Moscow’s worst instincts”. Although a “valuable ally”, in other respects, Berlusconi’s continual support for Moscow is seen as “troubling”.
In late 2008, Spogli wrote that Berlusconi’s “overwhelming desire is to remain in Putin’s good graces and he has frequently voiced opinions and declarations that have been passed to him directly by Putin”.
As an example, he added, after the war between Russia and Georgia that year, “Berlusconi began (and continues) to insist that Georgia was the aggressor”.
Berlusconi has long been Putin’s most ardent friend in Europe, and sees himself as the man best able to explain Russia’s leader to an often perplexed west. Such is their friendship that transcripts of an audio tape recorded in Berlusconi’s Rome villa capture the Italian leader speaking lucidly about “Putin’s bed”.
The bed was the scene of an alleged intimate encounter in November 2008 between Berlusconi and a high-class call girl, Patrizia D’Addario.
Berlusconi: “I’m going to take a shower too. And if you finish before me, wait for me on the big bed.”
D’Addario: “Which bed? Putin’s?”
D’Addario: “Oh, how cute. The one with the curtains.”
Soon after his release from hospital in December 2009, Berlusconi appeared wearing a sweatshirt with the Russian Federation double-headed eagle logo, an apparent gift from Putin.
But the Berlusconi-Putin friendship has had serious consequences. In March this year, Walter Litvinenko – the father of the murdered Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko – complained that Berlusconi had blocked his bid to receive asylum in Italy.
Litvinenko arrived in Italy with his wife and other relatives in April 2008. Despite the family’s well-founded fears that they would face persecution or worse at home, the Italian authorities failed to process their claim. The Litvinenkos also complained of harassment by the Italian police.
“We have fallen victim to a political game,” Litvinenko told the Guardian in March. “Berlusconi is no better than Putin. All European governments have been flirting with Putin. Berlusconi’s dependence on him, and on Russian gas, means that we don’t get asylum.”
The widow of Alexander Litvinenko said that leaked US diplomatic cables vindicated her long-standing claim that Vladimir Putin had authorised her husband’s murder.
In secret conversations with the French, the top US diplomat Daniel Fried said it was unlikely Putin was not aware of the operation to poison Litvinenko with polonium, “given Putin’s attention to detail”.
Fried also dismissed the idea that rogue criminal elements were to blame. The Russians were behaving with “increasing self-confidence to the point of arrogance”, he added, in a classified cable revealed yesterday.
In a statement to the Guardian today, Marina Litvinenko said the cable – written two weeks after her husband’s death in November 2006 – confirmed her assertion this was a Kremlin-authorised operation.
She said: “There is some satisfaction in seeing what we have all known to be true documented so officially, and I would add brutally by being so matter of fact in its description. It brings me a little closer to achieving truth and justice for my late husband.
“For years we have been trying to get the authorities in the west to view my husband’s murder as a state-sponsored crime. Now it appears they knew it all along.”
Marina Litvinenko recalled that while dying her husband had accused Putin of the poisoning, calling it “Vladimir Putin’s work”.
“Now the whole world knows and can see the truth through the leaking of these official US documents,’ she said.
Ahead of Fifa’s decision to award Russia the 2018 World Cup, Putin’s press spokesman today accused US diplomats of having “a perverted understanding of reality”.
Dmitry Peskov said that the American officials stationed in Moscow who described Russia as a kleptocracy had failed to grasp the reality of the country. “It’s extremely striking that there are diplomats here having such a perverted understanding of reality. It’s ignorance … it’s something beyond understanding,” he told the BBC.
The Russian foreign ministry said the cables published by WikiLeaks yesterday aroused bewilderment and regret in Russia – but contained no great surprises.
“In our work we are regularly confronted with stereotypes,” said a spokesman, Alexei Sazonov, adding that most of the cables were little more than “routine diplomatic correspondence”‘ between the US state department and its embassies, and would not affect “positive developments” in US-Russian relations. “As for comments on specific subjects, I cannot and will not make any,” he said.
The revelations in the cables were made by successive ambassadors in Moscow and published in the Guardian. The blunt reports disclosed by WikiLeaks conclude that Russia is a criminal state dominated by venal and bribe-hungry officials.
Yet, while details of the cables spread quickly through websites and the blogosphere in Russia, television – from which an estimated 70% of Russians get their news – ignored the reports. State-controlled Rossiya made no mention of the allegations in its mid-morning news broadcast Instead, it reported on the Moscow river freezing over, on two Russian tourists being attacked by sharks in Egypt, and on government-employed truck drivers in the US who got drunk while transporting nuclear weapons.
The news agency Interfax did publish extracts from cables alleging that Moscow’s recently sacked mayor Yuri Luzhkov presided over a “pyramid of corruption”. But Interfax – and other media outlets – remained mute over claims that Putin had “illicit proceeds” from abroad and had amassed a secret fortune.
One Kremlin expert queried the timing of the disclosures and accused this newspaper of plotting to wreck Russia’s bid for the 2018 World Cup: “You have to immediately ask how does this benefit the Guardian?”
Dmitry Badovsky, deputy director of the Social Systems Research Institute, told the state news agency Ria Novosti. “You can make several guesses. Why does this information appear on the eve of the choice of which country will host the 2018 World Cup, and in which England and Russia are leading rivals.”
Russian state television did give over a large segment to Larry King’s interview with Putin, shown last night on CNN.
Asked by King for his response to the assessment of the US defence secretary, Robert Gates – revealed earlier by WikiLeaks – that “Russian democracy has disappeared and that the government is being run by the security services,” Putin replied: “I am personally acquainted with Mr Gates, I have met him on several occasions. I think he is a very nice man and not a bad specialist. But Mr Gates, of course, was one of the leaders of the US Central Intelligence Agency and today he is defence secretary. If he also happens to be America’s leading expert on democracy, I congratulate you.”
King also asked about the 10 Russian “sleeper agents” caught in the US in June and later deported to Moscow. Putin claimed that they had not harmed US interests, adding: “The methods employed by our special services differ in a good way from those used by US special services. Thank God, neither the agents in question or any other Russian intelligence officers are known to have been involved in creating secret prisons, kidnappings, or torture.”
The prime minister also warned that Moscow must agree partnership with Washington over a joint missile defence shield. If not, he said, “Russia will just have to protect itself using various means, including the deployment of new missile systems to counter the new threats to our borders, and the development of new nuclear-missile technology.” Putin added: “We don’t want this. It’s not a threat. We are simply talking about what to expect if we can’t agree to work together.”
The Kommersant newspaper said this morning that Putin’s comments showed “Russo-American relations are returning to the rhetoric of the cold war.”