Khodorkovsky to Get Second Sentence
11 November, 2010
Khodorkovsky to Get Second Sentence

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of the beneficiaries of vast resources reallocated by Communists shortly before the collapse of the USSR, an outstanding entrepreneur in the 90-s, the richest man in Russia by 2004, a head of highly successful YUKOS oil-producing empire, and currently a prisoner, gave his last words a week ago at the second trial which had started two years ago on fraud and theft charges.

Since 2003, when Khodorkovsky was first arrested and accused of billions- worth tax evasion, the public

opinion here in Russia has been changing in his favor. On the early stages of anti-YUKOS saga, Khodorkovsky was most often perceived as the unlucky oligarch who had missed his chance to leave the country on time. His name was among other tycoons of the 90-s targeted by President Putin’s campaign to consolidate his personal power and to limit the involvement of large business in Russia’s politics. Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Khodorkovsky and other influential fat cats of Eltsin era suppressed by Putin during his first term in the office, enjoyed little sympathy of the public, as their path to riches had been controversial and far from transparent.
Further developments in Russia though proved that Mr. Putin’s struggle against ‘oligarchic economy’ turned in fact into redistribution of assets in favour of loyal businesses ready to abandon any political ambitions.
Khodorkovsky, having been tried, sentenced and sent to Siberia (while others fled the country and lost media attention), has become a martyr in the eyes of those opposed to the present political regime.
The transcript of Khodorkovsky’s latest speech is available online at khodorkovsky.ru and is being widely quoted with admiration as a ‘passionate and emotional appeal of hope for the future freedom of Russia’ that ‘seeks to reach beyond the courtroom to the ears of the Russian people and the watching world’. His attorneys and human right activists claim that the judge’s verdict expected to be announced in December will decide both Khodorkovsky’s and Russia’s future.
I believe that such assertions are overestimating Khodorkovsky’s role in national politics, but some details of his trial are quite characteristic of the present political regime. The hearings are open to press and held in Moscow instead of being hidden in snowy Chita, where Khodorkovsky used to serve his first sentence. Public prosecutors are requesting 14-year custody for him in addition to a 8-year term in prison which he already was adjudged to in 2005. But 14 years is far less than he could have be sentenced to just recently, before some changes to the Criminal Code were introduced by the acting President. Garry Kasparov, the Soviet chess champion, now one of the opposition leaders, ironically calls it ‘a sign of Medvedev’s humanistic approach’. If not his latest amendments to criminal law limiting penalties for economic crimes, the prosecutors would have requested a life sentence’.
President Medvedev and his administration are under control of the predecessor, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is without doubt the ultimate decision-maker. But the county needs reforms as never before, so Dmitry Medvedev’s tough task it to try to introduce changes without undermining the well-established political system. Unfortunately for Russia, this results in the repeating attempts to imitate ‘modernization’ that have not brought fruit so far. Penitentiary system, police, elections, local government, investment and business climate, housing and health care – in all these and some other spheres the presidential initiatives have been loudly pronounced and have given hope to the people waiting for changes.
Khodorkovsky, who most probably will spend his life in prison (some say that the third trial is on the agenda soon) is a grave demonstration that the autocratic legacy will remain untouched.

 

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