Despite Sabotage, Civil Society Rises in Russia

The Financial Times has published some comments from Mikhail Khodorkovsky requesting President Barack Obama’s support for rule of law in Russia during the state visit.

In comments to the Financial Times relayed over the weekend, Mr Khodorkovsky called on Mr Obama to throw his support behind an independent court system in Russia.

He said Russia was now facing a “moment of truth” when it could choose between building a modern innovative economy and civil society or a “fortress of raw materials” and authoritarianism.

“The independence of the courts is anecessary point of support for making the right strategic choice forbuilding a really modern society and legal state,” Mr Khodorkovsky said.

“Despitethe fact that I have already spent almost six years in jail and now Iam threatened with a new unjust sentence . . . I wish my country makesthe right choice and very much hope that the current leaders of the USand Russia want the same.”

The second set of charges, which Mr Khodorkovsky denies as “absurd”, could extend his eight-year sentence by more than 20 years.

Mr Obama has already been asked to address the new charges.

Inan interview with Novaya Gazeta, the independent Russian newspaper, tobe published on Monday, Mr Obama said he thought it was “odd” that thenew charges “which appear to be a repackaging of the old charges,should be surfacing now”.

But he also said he did not know all the details.

“Iwould just affirm my support for President Medvedev’s courageousinitiative to strengthen the rule of law in Russia, which of courseincludes making sure that all those accused of crimes have the right toa fair trial and that the courts are not used for political purposes.”

VadimKlyuvgant, Mr Khodorkovsky’s lead lawyer, said “any attempt to findsense in the prosecutor’s case will lead to psychological trauma . . .what was once called business is now called a crime”.

In commentsto the Financial Times, Mr Khodorkovsky called on Mr Obama to examinethe results of a recent opinion poll by the independent Levada centre,which found that, of the 40 per cent of Russians following his trial,more than half did not believe in the court’s independence.

Hesaid: “Many are announcing support for the once hated rich man. This ison average across the country, and in Moscow it is even more pronounced. Despite sabotage by hawkish bureaucrats and officials, a realcivil society is forming in Russia.”