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Revelations by WikiLeaks that Russia is considered in some circles to be a virtual “mafia state” have added new strains to relations between Moscow and western countries.

See our special page on WikiLeaks

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has played down the impact of the leaks, which suggest diplomats appear convinced the Kremlin works hand in hand with organised crime.

They also portray a corrupt state centred around Putin’s leadership.

“Some experts think that someone is trying to inflate the image of WikiLeaks, to give this internet site more importance in order to use it later for political purposes,” said Putin.

“And if that’s not the case,” he added, “then I believe that diplomatic services should pay more attention to their documents. We’ve seen leaks like this in the past, I see no catastrophe in all that.”

So can the picture of a corrupt system, driven by greed and oil money from top to bottom, harm Russia?

“It’s pretty hard to damage the Russian image in the world because it’s already not very good and this new information doesn’t add anything,” said Nikolay Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

Putin has denied diplomats’ claims that he’s amassed a vast fortune.

The revelations also add to the pressure on Silvio Berlusconi. The Italian premier is accused of being in thrall to his Russian counterpart, with diplomats suspecting he may have taken a cut from energy deals with Moscow.

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