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A New Kafkian Bar Serves as a Distraction

From the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal:

Don’t hold your breath for the outcome. Russia’s courts take orders directly from the Kremlin, and this trial sets a new Kafkian bar. The same prosecutor who won a state award for the first Khodorkovsky conviction came up with a thousand-plus page indictment. The main charge: That Mr. Khodorkovsky and his business partner stole the entire production of Yukos and laundered the profits. The presiding judge summarily dismissed defense lawyer motions even to consult with their clients.

A Kremlin confident about its hold on power would let this man be. Vladimir Putin has already destroyed the independent-minded oligarch who dared dabble in politics, sending a message to other tycoons about toeing the regime line. The 2005 conviction also provided Mr. Putin with a pretext to put the state back in control of Russia’s oil and gas, which had been partially privatized in the Boris Yeltsin era.

But no potential challenger to Mr. Putin has ever been allowed to pass unmolested. Besides, a highly visible trial like this makes a very useful political distraction in the midst of an economic meltdown.