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The Khodorkovsky Verdict

On May 25 a Moscow City Court passed down its verdict on an appeal by the lawyers of Dmitry Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev to revoke their second sentence, on charges of stealing oil, which was issued last December. The court, after an eight-hour session, reduced their total sentence from 14 to 13 years. This means that the defendants will be jailed until 2016. (They have been in prison since 2003.) This verdict demonstrates the cynicism and hypocrisy of the Kremlin, which dictates orders to the judiciary, and castes a bad light on President Medvedev, the supposed defender of law and order in Russia. Either Medvedev has been a willing participant in a carefully orchestrated “bad cop- good cop” routine with Putin, or, as many have claimed, he does not have the power to bring about reforms in the legal system, no matter what his views.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has a direct and personal interest in the Khodorkovsky case, which may explain why Khodorkovsky is still behind bars. By all accounts, Putin has a vendetta against Khodorkovsky because of the latter’s efforts to involve himself in politics in 2003. Putin had no problem with Khodorkovsky earning vast amounts of money by dubious means, as numerous other Russian oligarchs have done. But Khodorkovsky violated Putin’s unspoken rule when he started funding opposition political parties. His arrest sent a warning message to his fellow billionaires: stay out of politics.
President Medvedev tantalized Russians who have hoped for a more democratic legal system by implicitly criticizing Putin for calling Khodorkovsky a thief when his trial last December was still going on. Also, last year Medvedev signed a law making it illegal to imprison people accused of economic crimes before their trials. (Khodorkovsky and Lebedev had already been convicted and were serving sentences for embezzlement and tax evasion but the move nonetheless signaled a possible change for the better in the Kremlin’s judicial policies.)
But, for all his lofty words, as the Khodorkovsky case demonstrates, Medvedev has yet to deliver.

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