Russia is a "mafia state" that works closely with organized crime networks to extort business, persecute rivals, rig elections, and traffic weapons.
These are some of the allegations contained in the latest batch of secret U.S. diplomatic cables revealed by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks and published by several newspapers.
While the revelations come as little surprise for most Russians, well aware of rampant corruption in their country, the scores of leaked cables show that the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama holds a bleak view of Russia's leadership despite its stated efforts to "reset" relations with Moscow.
The leaked documents, whose authenticity has yet to be confirmed, describe the Russian government as highly centralized and corrupt, a "modern brand of authoritarianism" that has allowed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to amass vast "illicit proceeds."
One cable from February quotes U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates as saying that "Russian democracy has disappeared."
Another document quotes U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried as suggesting that Putin may have known about a plot to kill dissident Aleksandr Litvinenko, who died of radioactive poisoning in London in November 2006.
Some of the most damaging allegations contained in the cables come from Jose Gonzales, a Spanish prosecutor who has spent years investigating the activities of Russian organized crime in Spain.
According to the leaked cables, Gonzales told U.S. officials in January that a number of Russian political parties worked hand-in-hand with mafia groups. The documents reportedly quote him as saying that Russian authorities routinely give crime leaders jobs in politics to grant them immunity from prosecution.
Gonzales also allegedly accused Russian intelligence officials of organizing gun shipments to Kurdish groups to destabilize Turkey and of being linked to a 2009 scandal involving a Russian-crewed cargo ship suspected of carrying weapons destined for Iran.
Putin was quick to react, playing down the leak in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live" aired on December 1, before the latest set of U.S. cables were made public.
"The diplomatic service should be more careful with its documents," Putin said. "Such leaks have happened before, in previous times. I don't see it as any kind of catastrophe."
Putin nonetheless said Gates was "deeply misled" about the state of Russian democracy and warned Washington not to meddle in Russia's affairs.
He also made it clear that a U.S. diplomat's description of him and President Dmitry Medvedev as "Batman and Robin" upset him.
"To be honest with you," he told CNN, "we did not suspect that this [criticism] could be made with such arrogance, with such rudeness, and you know, so unethically."
A series of leaked U.S. cables pertaining to Georgia are also likely to anger Moscow.
In the documents, U.S. diplomats reportedly accuse Russia of arming separatists in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the run-up to the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008.
The cables also contain allegations that Russia carried out "covert actions" to destabilize the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili ahead of the war, including disinformation campaigns and a missile attack in Kodori -- an area claimed by Abkhazia controlled then by Georgia.
But the cables also revealed that U.S. diplomats relied heavily on the Saakashvili government's own version of disputed events and mostly failed to challenge Georgia's official accounts in their cables to Washington.
According to "The New York Times," some of the cables sent from the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi just before the war contained information that later proved false.
WikiLeaks' revelations, which have had a bombshell effect in the United States, have so far created little commotion among ordinary Russians well aware of rampant corruption among their country's ruling elite.
"Those likely to be most impressed are people who believed in the honesty, the morality, and the skill of world leaders," says Vitaly Lebin, editor in chief of "Russky reporter," a Russian weekly that published the leaked cables.
"Those who didn't believe in such qualities, like Russians, won't be particularly surprised."
written by Claire Bigg, with RFE/RL's Russian Service and agency reports