more intriguing is the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, arrested in
October 2003 and jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion. In May
2005 he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in a reformatory camp
contrast to Berezovsky and Gusinsky, Khodorkovsky,
whatever his past financial misdemeanors, is not being persecuted
because of the way he acquired his wealth. The fact is that all the
robber barons who now control the Russian economy got rich in the
same way: by bribing, cheating, stealing, and, in some cases,
murdering their way to wealth.
Khodorkovsky’s credit, it should be noted that, since the end of the
legalized looting of the Yeltsin era, he has turned himself into a
model of probity and business legitimacy. The company he created,
Yukos Oil, was one of the first Russian businesses to publish
Western-style audited accounts, to pay taxes on time, and to deal
fairly with minority shareholders and foreign investors. In his
personal activities, Khodorkovsky emphasized his determination to
reinvest his wealth in Russia, rather than ferret it away in Swiss
banks. He gave generously to unfashionable charities and supported
cultural and scientific exchanges with the West.
Why did, then, Putin make an example of this model oligarch?
Khodorkovsky was arrested not because of the way he made his money,
but because of the way he chose to spend it. His generosity extended
well beyond charities to political movements. Khodorkovsky financed
all three of Russia’s opposition parties, mainly the liberal Yabloko
and the pro-market Union of Right Forces, but also recently the
He supported pro-Western think tanks that were critical of the
Russian Government’s economic and foreign policies. He opposed the
war in Chechnya. And he was said to have political ambitions,
possibly including a run for the presidency in 2008, when Putin is
required to stand down.
independence came nowhere near to challenging Putin’s political
control. The parties he supported financially, namely Yabloko and
the Union of Right Forces, failed to secure even the five percent
vote they needed to win any representation in the new parliament in
the December 2003 elections. As for the idea that impoverished
Russians would elect as president the country’s richest robber
baron, this was widely dismissed in Moscow as a joke.
But, for Putin
it seemed to be unacceptable as a matter of principle that there
should be any independent media and any centers of political
activity outside Kremlin control. It is also rumored that the
secretive Kremlin clan of siloviki – a group of former and
current agents of the security services brought into the Kremlin by
Putin – are behind the attack on Yukos.