Russian Justice Under Putin, Again

This is the culture that not only brought Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, to power but has permeated Russia for twelve years. The siloviki, former or active FSB agents, are ubiquitous and at some estimates they dominate at least 60 percent of any positions of power. Nikolai Patrushev, the head of FSB under Putin, and Putin's longtime deputy chief of staff, himself a former KGB agent, Igor Sechin are considered to be the real string pullers in Moscow today. The recent unearthing of Russian spies in the United States should not surprise anybody. In the prevalent Russian frame of mind there is no mystery that agents would be everywhere, including the United States. Their presence is what counts; their actual function is secondary, a question that came up at the time of the spy revelations.

After a Russian court in August 2008 rejected Khodorkovsky’s request for parole, he was supposed to be freed in 2011, following the serving of his entire sentence. But in what can only be described as sadism, rumors about new charges have been circulating in Moscow from the beginning of his arrest. The timing was supposed to coincide exactly before his potential release to affect maximum continuous stay in prison. With the snail-pace moving Russian justice, two years before the would-be release was just about the right time for the desired outcome.  The Prosecutor General's office did not disappoint, bringing the new charges in February 2009.

The indictment alleged that Khodorkovsky schemed with a group of investors at his company Yukos to steal from a Siberian oil company 3.6 billion rubles ($102 million).  The outrageousness of the charge, other than the obvious rationale of the sham proceedings, is that the prosecutor seems not to even know how an integrated oil company works. The alleged victim was a wholly owned subsidiary of Yukos. It would be the same if the headquarters of an American oil company were to be accused of taking the profits of their Texas subsidiary.

But, politics and policy aside and internal Russian shenanigans non-withstanding, it is the indecency towards a man that should bring revolting feelings among all people, irrespective of nationality or ideology.

There was some tepid reaction to Khodorkovsky’s conviction from Washington and some other Western capitals, but the reaction was true to the tenor of today, flaccid. Understandably, Russia’s response was a terse “back off”.