June 11, 2005

Khodorkovsky Sentenced

On May 31st Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison for criticizing President Putin and Russia's course. Well, officially it's tax evasion stemming from the acquisition of former Soviet oil concern-turned privatized energy company Yukos. More to the point, it's a punishment of Khodorkovsky for being pro-democracy, pro-US, pro-invasion of Iraq, pro-free press and pro-capitalism. He didn't keep his big democracy-supporting Jewish mouth shut so Putin shut it for him - to the point of arresting him at gunpoint with more than a dozen armed FSB agents who stormed his jet on a runway in Novosibirsk. Khodorkovsky is also guilty of being fabulously wealthy in Russia - he's been the richest man in Russia for several years. The Russian people aren't very taken with rich people and so it's a nice little populist boost to take down Khodorkovsky, in addition to eliminating an animated, resource-laden, international opponent.

Assuming K actually did what he was convicted of, it's still prejudicial. Aside from the manner in which he was arrested, he is being targeted for crimes that many other rich Russian businessmen have not been investigated or indicted for. That's arbitrary and capricious, and shows that he's being targeted for his outspoken views and not some shady deals.

Khodorkovsky's arrest, trial and sentence should merit serious rebukes against Russia, and should be couched directly next to Putin's heavily illegal clampdown on all non-state media. He used FSB teams and legal pretenses to take out the last independent media networks, and he used the same combination to take out a major political opponent (it's worth pointing out that K supported groups that promoted democracy and media openness, as well as funding the pink-liberal pro-Western party Yabloko and links with the SPS Union of Right Forces).

This is another one of those dead-canary things we should be worried about seeing in Russia - not to mention the whole "rigged election" business.

UPDATE: Tom Lantos agrees with me. Richard Perle came to the same conclusion; there's no place for Russia in the G-8 after the Khodorkovsky nonsense on top of the flawed election and elimination of independent media.

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