Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev recently gave a wonderful speech about the need to modernize Russia, curb corruption, extend rule of law and democratic rights, etc.
Words are cheap.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was one of those new young billionaires arising from Soviet Communism’s fall. Head of the oil firm Yukos, he was Russia’s richest man. Then in 2003, the Putin regime charged tax evasion, tossed Khodorkovsky into a prison camp, and essentially stole Yukos.
While Putin accused Khodorkovsky of gangster capitalism, the ironic truth is that, of all Russia’s new tycoons, he was probably the most honest, transparent, and lawful in running his company. Khodorkovsky believed Russia should be a normal country. The tax charges were phony. Khodorkovsky’s real offense was open political and financial support for Russia’s democratic opposition. Putin was sending an unmistakeable message: if he could crush even this cleanest and richest foe, then all the country’s dirty businessmen (which, given Russia’s business climate, is most of them) had better dance to the Kremlin’s tune.
With Khodorkovsky’s 8-year sentence nearing completion, the regime has put him (together with his co-defendant, Platon Lebedev) on trial again, now charging him (contradictorily) with stealing the oil on whose profits he supposedly didn’t pay tax. But (like the hero Sharansky, and unlike the pathetic victims of Stalin’s show trials) Khodorkovsky is unbowed. Not only is he vigorously defending himself against the farcical charges, but he has smuggled out and published a series of articles exposing the vicious, corrupt, murderous gangsterism of the Putin-Medvedev regime, and the sorry state of Russian society in consequence.
Thus, in an ironic twist of history (or is it?), a man who was once a leading capitalist is today Russia’s foremost champion of human rights. The Economist magazine deems him today’s equivalent of Andrei Sakharov. It sees the regime itself, rather than Khodorkovsky, as really being on trial now.
(Click HERE for Khodorkovsky’s website.)