On May 7th, 2008 – one year ago today – Dmitry Medvedev assumed the office of the Presidency of Russian Federation. Luke Harding at the Guardian reviews his first year in office, stopping by the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky:
Earlier last month, while pondering Medvevev’s anniversary, and whether we should believe anything he says, I dropped into the trial in Moscow of the former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, the ex-CEO of the oil company Yukos, is in court again, this time charged with embezzlement and money laundering. Khodorkovsky, together with his business partner Platon Lebedev, was sitting inside a glass cage; he cut a composed if etiolated figure. Seven burly guards armed with pistols and Kalashnikovs stood inside the courtroom – presumably in the unlikely event that Khodorkovsky tried to escape.
Khodorkovksy’s parents sat in the front row. Just before the session started, a guard came up to Khodorkovsky’s elderly father and took away his chair.
Even the most neutral observers have come to the conclusion thatthis latest Khodorkovsky trial is a nothing more than an act ofpolitical vindictiveness – designed to keep Khodorkovksy in prison whenhis current eight-year sentence is up. The trial is trundling towardsits pre-scripted conclusion, even though this latest case against himis embarrassingly feeble and contradictory. Everyone in Moscow is awarethat Khodorkovsky’s real crime is to have challenged Putin. His mistakewas to break the unwritten covenant that Russian businessmen -especially rich ones – should stay out of politics.
Which begs the question, why has Medevedev allowed the trial to goahead? If, as he suggests, he believes in a judiciary free frompolitical influence, then the Khodorkovksy trial is a blatant abuse ofprocess. At a time when Russia is mired in economic crisis anddesperate for foreign investment, the case is clearly not helpingRussia’s international image – indeed Russia needs it like a hole inthe head. Quizzed about this last week, a Medvedev aide merely repeatedwhat the president had said about independent courts – aless-than-convincing explanation as to why the Kremlin has decided tostage another dreary post-modern show trial.