Putin vs. Khodorkovsky: The Courtroom as Battlefield

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, and probably nobody in the world understands that better than deposed Russian oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Whilst literally seated on ice cubes in a Siberian prison cell, Khodorkovsky, though deprived of his billions and his freedom (to say nothing of his hair), has nonetheless mapped out and executed a devastating counterattack on his jailer, Vladimir Putin.

Khodorkovsky was formerly the head of the massive YUKOS oil concern and Russia’s richest man. The moment he began making noises about challenging Putin for the presidency he was summarily arrested, railroaded on bogus embezzlement charges, and sent off for a lengthy stretch in Siberia. His entire company, which had been leading the way in bringing Western accounting and management practices to Russia, was seized and usurped by the Russian government.

Human rights groups around the globe have condemned the kangaroo judicial proceedings he faced, and now he faces a second go-round that makes the first proceeding look like a tea party.

Double jeopardy being standard procedure in Russia, Khodorkovsky is being retried on exactly the same charges, except that now the amount of goods he allegedly personally misappropriated now amounts to the total value of goods produced by the company. There is little doubt that he faces the single most absurd criminal indictment ever leveled against an individual in the annals of jurisprudence.

The conditions under which he is conveyed from jail to court each day are truly barbaric: “For two hours each way, the man who once supplied 2 percent of the world’s oil crouches in a steel cage measuring 47 by 31 by 20 inches.” The indictment charging him with new crimes is nearly 3,500 pages long.

But now, even as he vies with Kremlin prosecutors in a Moscow courtroom under such oppressive conditions, Khodorkovsky is unbowed. He has struck back.

First, he published a devastating condemnation of the Russian justice system in the opposition newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He wrote that “the steamroller that has replaced justice is the gravedigger of the modern Russian state" and accused the Putin regime of operating a mafia-like judicial system whose "destruction will occur in the traditional way for Russia -- from below and with bloodshed.”