Mikhail Khodorkovsky arrived at his new place of imprisonment today—prison colony number seven in the city of Segezha, which is in the Republic of Karelia. Segezha is approximately 260 kilometers north of the capital of Karelia, Petrozavodsk. (According to unconfirmed accounts, Khodorkovsky’s co-defendant in his criminal case, Platon Lebedev, is en route to a prison in Murmansk, which is much further north, on the Barents Sea.)
So what does this latest news mean for Khodorkovsky? First, as I was told by his lawyers yesterday, when I met them in New York City, Khodorkovsky will be much closer to home than he was in his previous facility in Chita, which is 6,000 kilometers from Moscow. This means that his family will be able to visit him more easily. (In fact his father could not visit him at all while was in camp in Chita because his father is not allowed to fly for health reasons.) Also, according to a Russian website where female inmates at No. 7 prison discuss conditions there and give advice to new arrivals, life is not all that harsh, although the winters are cold and wet. Khordorkovsky will reportedly be assigned to a work detail that involves prison housekeeping.
One female prisoner voiced optimism about the possibility of her early release: “They say that if you behave and work well…then it is possible to be released on parole. Many are released early if their crimes are not severe.” But of course things could be different for male inmates. And Khodorkovsky is a special case. There will undoubtedly be strong pressure from Putin and his followers in the Kremlin to prevent the Segezha District Court from granting his request to be released early. It is well known that Karelia is a sort of fiefdom of a group of Putin’s allies from the KGB-FSB, most notably Nikolai Patrushev, currently head of the Security Council, who got his career start in Karelia and Rashid Nurgaliyev, currently Russian Minister of Internal Affairs. Nurgaliyev, who Medvedev would reportedly like to fire but cannot, made his entire career in Karelia’s KGB and still has a dacha in the forest outside Petrozavodsk.
Patrushev and Nurgaliyev probably wield considerable influence in Karelia, even though they are no longer officials there, and they are both very close to Putin. Thus, the judge who presides over the review of the parole request of Khodorkovsky might well receive some advice from above as to how he should make his decision. And that advice would not be in Khodorkovsky’s favor. According to the Russian criminal code, the court must have strong reasons for denying a parole request, but in Russia, so-called “telephone Justice” often prevails over formal law.