Wikileaks in Russia | Globe Editorial

It’s different with the Kremlin

December 28, 2010

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AMERICANS ARE entitled to be angry about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his anarchistic attitude toward the release of a quarter million US diplomatic documents. Assange’s belief that the value of exposure always exceeds that of secrecy is simply wrongheaded. But his desire to disrupt societies through widespread leaks can be viewed differently when aimed at a society hobbled by widespread corruption.

Russia’s foremost independent daily, Novaya Gazeta, has said it will publish WikiLeaks documents that purportedly disclose corruption and ties to organized crime at the highest echelons of the country’s power elite. Novaya Gazeta promises to use the WikiLeaks documents as source material, and seek to verify and expand on any revelations. If it does, the same people who’ve rightly attacked Assange for his undisciplined release of State Department documents — some intriguing, some embarrassing, some potentially harmful to America — should stand behind Novaya Gazeta and, if necessary, Assange.

If that sounds like a double standard, consider the Russian government’s often-bloody attempts to avoid this type of scrutiny. In the past, Russian reporters delving into corruption have been beaten and sometimes killed. Newspapers have been targeted on charges of "extremism,’’ for which they can be closed down. Then there was the former Russian security official Alexander Litvinenko who openly accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of billionaire Boris Berezovsky. He later claimed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin had ordered the murder of an investigative reporter and even staged terrorist events to help his rise to power. Litvinenko himself was mysteriously poisoned to death in London in 2006. In Russia, secrecy is synonymous with repression.

An encouraging sign for the future is that the principal investor in Novaya Gazeta is billionaire Alexander Lebedev, one of the so-called oligarchs of post-communist Russia who has been able to retain the favor of Putin’s Kremlin while exercising a measure of independence. Another sponsor is the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. In different ways, both Lebedev and Gorbachev have been dependent on the goodwill of Putin. If they believe their paper can publish WikiLeaks documents that expose Kremlin wrongdoing and still survive, then change may, in fact, be coming to Russia.

That would be very good news for Russians and the rest of the world — even if Assange ends up taking a bow.