Monday, February 8, 2016

Prisoner of Putin

Outgoing Russian President Dimitri Medvedev caused something of a stir Monday when he ordered a review of the case of Russia's most famous political prisoner, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Prisoner of Putin

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New book on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the political prisoner of Vladimir Putin.
New book on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the political prisoner of Vladimir Putin.

Outgoing Russian President Dimitri Medvedev caused something of a stir Monday when he ordered a review of the case of Russia’s most famous political prisoner, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But every knowledgeable Russian with whom I’ve spoken dismisses the move as a PR gesture as Medvedev prepares to step aside for Vladimir Putin to take up his third term as president.

Medvedev might want to free Khodorkovsky, but Putin has all the power.
       
Khodorkovsky angered Putin several years ago by entering opposition politics despite warnings not to.  As a warning to others who might have similar ideas, Khodorkovsky was charged with tax fraud and embezzlement – in blatantly political trials – and convicted in 2005 and 2010 ; he still faces years more in prison and his giant oil company was effectively nationalized by the state.

Facing  opposition at home,  Putin is less likely than ever to free Khodorkovsky, whose  release has become a key demand of Russia’s new protest movment.   But the case has also become a symbol of whether Putin is ready to reform a corrupted political and economic system under pressure from a new opposition movement.  

“I’m absolutely certain that so long as Putin is in power, Khodorkovsky will stay in prison,”  says Natalya Gevorkyan,  noted Russian journalist and author of the new book about the trials of Khodorkovsky - Prisonnier of Poutine. (Published in French and soon in German, it will hopefully be translated into English; not clear if any Russian publisher will dare touch it.) 

Putin clearly has a powerful and personal grudge against Khodorkovsky. Indeed, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, told me that, when he and a small group of opposition leaders met recently with Medvedev, and he inquired about the chances for Khodorkovsky’s release, Medvedev told him frankly: “That is not my case.”  Adds Gevorkyan, “This is Putin’s case.”  And there’s no sign Putin is willing let his nemesis out of jail.

Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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About this blog

Trudy Rubin’s Worldview column runs on Thursdays and Sundays. Over the past decade she has made multiple trips to Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and the West Bank and also written from Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Iran, Russia, Ukraine, South Korea and China. She is the author of Willful Blindness: the Bush Administration and Iraq, a book of her columns from 2002-2004. In 2001 she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary and in 2008 she was awarded the Edward Weintal prize for international reporting. In 2010 she won the Arthur Ross award for international commentary from the Academy of American Diplomacy.

Reach Trudy at trubin@phillynews.com.

Trudy Rubin Inquirer Opinion Columnist
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