From Richard Lourie in the Moscow Times:
Some countries have better reputations than they deserve. The Netherlands, for example, emerged from World War II with a nobler image than they warranted. In Poland, however, just the opposite held true. Russia today also seems to be a place whose image is worse than the reality. Part of the problem, as always in Russia, is the weight of the past. The country can’t seem to shake off the legacy of its brutality and injustice in the 19th and 20th centuries, which can be summed up in two words — pogrom and Gulag. And so it didn’t help that Vladimir Putin’s presidency was littered with corpses in Shakespearean profusion. Spin and hype can’t do much for that. But what can turn things around are dramatic acts of enlightened clemency. It is an ideal time to free former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Having served half his sentence, he has the right to appeal for early release. Releasing him would win great good will for the new presidency of Dmitry Medvedev without necessarily reflecting badly on his predecessor. On the other hand, piling more years onto Khodorkovsky’s sentence will only make Medvedev look weak and malicious, at best.