Yonatan Pomrenze, NBC News Moscow Correspondent
Ostensibly, there is no real connection between this week’s release of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks and Thursday’s announcement that Russia won in its bid to host the 2018 World Cup in soccer.
Denis Sinyakov / Reuters
People celebrate at a sports bar in Moscow, Thursday, after the announcement that Russia is going to host the 2018 World Cup.
At least, not on the surface (I’ll leave the backroom dealings of FIFA to the conspiracy theorists). But one needed to look no further than the World Cup decision to confirm the private musings of some U.S. diplomats about Russia’s leaders.
Many of the leaked cables from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow discussed the “tandemocracy” of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, and who holds final authority in Russia. One cable referenced a school of thought that “argues that Medvedev continues to play Robin to Putin’s Batman,” while another discussed Medvedev’s difficulty in “coming out from Putin's shadow,” and called Putin Russia’s “top dog.”
Although Putin usually defers to Medvedev on the international stage, as it is the president’s area of responsibility, it was Putin front and center this week, taking on both WikiLeaks and Russia’s bid for the World Cup.
First, Putin gave an interview to Larry King, dismissing criticism of Russia’s style of a ruling duo as an attempt to “destroy our effective interaction in running the country.”
Pavel Golovkin / AP
A young man holding a Russian flag hands out free national flags to motorists in downtown Moscow, to celebrate FIFA's selection of Russia as host to the 2018 World Cup.
But the real intrigue came when Putin announced that he would not be traveling to Zurich to preset Russia’s bid for the World Cup. Putin’s support of the bid, and the resources and results his power can deliver, was one of the key points in Russia’s bid. It was Putin’s personal appeal, in English, to the IOC in 2007 which is widely credited for Russia being awarded the 2014 winter Olympics.
The official reason given was Putin’s wish to allow FIFA members “to make an unbiased decision calmly and without any outside pressure,” but some saw it as a sign of the Russian bid’s weakness and Putin cutting his losses.
One day later, Russia won its bid in only two rounds of voting.
It’s a huge deal for Russia, and Russian pride, to host the World Cup. Medvedev tweeted his congratulations (@MedvedevRussia), it will be Putin’s influence, and strategy, that Russians remember when they think of how they won.