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Esquire Interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Part 2 of 5

The Russian version of Esquire magazine has published a very interesting and extensive conversation between Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the writer Grigory Chkhartishvili – who is better known for his extremely popular fiction writing under the pen name of Boris Akunin. Each day this week we will publish a section of this important article. Below is Part 2, click here to read Part 1. khodorkovsky070308-thumb.jpgMikhail Khodorkovsky: At first, probably, the power simply wanted to have kompromat on influential business groups, but then more radical plans appeared. It must be said, a talk with the president about the rules of the game did take place. During the time of this talk (in 2000) Putin said that he expects that the biggest companies won’t be used for the resolution of political tasks. And we all (I among them) declared that we support this position. Business structures have to be outside politics, because on them depends the provision of the population with critically important goods and services. It should be noted that [this] obligation YUKOS carried out to the end, although the Procuracy-General did everything to disrupt deliveries (including the arrest of operational property and accounts). That entrepreneurs not participate in politics in a personal capacity or through lobbying was never spoken of. Indeed, until 2003 both the administration of the president and the government knew from us ourselves whom we’re helping, what questions we’re lobbying. Everything changed in 2003. You could make guesses as to why – either because of the elections getting close, or because of the informational policy of representatives of the siloviki wing close “to the body”, or simply that the Kiplingesque “Water Truce” had ended. One way or the other, the trend changed drastically and without any preliminary discussions.

It must be said frankly that by that moment certain changes that had been accumulating during the course of 2001-2002 had also taken place in my position, The main thing is that the logic of the development of international business demanded disclosing all confidential financial information to investors, demanded maximal predictability of the business environment, that is the legislative securing of all the most important aspects of the activity of companies. In general, modern business demanded modern social relations, and we started consistently striving to achieve them. Not “in general”, but as concerns our specific industry.We succeeded in pushing through into the law on pipeline transportation – so-called “equal access to the pipe”, i.e. quotas, which before had been “creatively” established quarterly by officials, obtained a clear-cut legislative securing. We were able to carry through the legislative securing of the scale of customs duties – this was yet another “mass feeding trough” – and a few other analogous anti-corruptional amendments to legislation.Moreover, the amendments were carried though not “behind the scenes”, but in open parliamentary hearings. Once at an open deliberation at prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov’s I even had to propose to four ministers to concretely disclose the mechanism of their interest in preserving the old status quo. They publicly refused, and the objections were withdrawn. That is, I want to say, this was a very real fight. Of course, the methods, compared with today’s, were vegetarian, but there were quite a few discontented people.However, others immediately tried to take the place of the one group of corruptioneers. I understood that without political support at the very top nothing would work out. And it was decided to place the question of corruption at the president’s. The topic was supported by Voloshin and – you’ll be amazed – Medvedev, who, being then the deputy head of the administration of the president, was preparing the deliberation with the Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists [RSPP].Apparently, the question had come to a head not only for the RSPP. The deliberation ended up being loud. This was 19 February 2003. Then I talked about the gigantic corruption market in the country – 30 bln dollars, that is 10% of GDP. (By the way, at the beginning of 2008 the deputy procurator-general is naming a figure of 240 bln dollars – that is 20% of GDP already.)Soon after that, in March, the “steamroller” started up. And they threw everything they had into it. For example, at elections large companies always helped the deputies from their territories, the parties (both by obligatory allocation, and at their own discretion). I, in consequence of the process of disclosure of information in the company, decided to cease the non-public support, to make it open and personal. That is, I supported SPS and «Yabloko» not “on the sly”, but publicly, and not from the company’s money, but from my own, personal, having previously paid taxes. Moreover, some others of my colleagues just as openly supported those who to them were politically closer. This is a completely civilized practice, and at first many officials deemed it correct. However, after February of 2003 another interpretation was given – “preparation for a seizure of power”.Grigory Chkhartishvili. Given by whom? Who personally? It is understandable that this could not have happened without the sanction of Putin, but who was the initiator? What kind of alignment of forces did they have there under the carpet?M.KH. There was a rather large group of people in the Kremlin who considered the pursuit of YUKOS to be a mistake. They tried to do something, but ended up not being understood.At the end of the summer, the situation became completely tense. I understood that there’s a very serious confrontation going on in the Kremlin between actually existing, and not at all imaginary, groupings for influence during the time of the second term of Putin’s presidency. The composition of these groupings was constantly changing, and they can only provisionally be called the siloviki and the liberals, but their vision of the development of the country differs strongly. One group, provisionally called the liberals, sees the goal in the building of a sufficiently democratic, open society. I would sooner call them “supporters of playing by the rules”, although this too won’t be precise. They, of course, also see themselves in power, but are ready to fight for this power with political methods. These are successful people, and that’s why they’re ready for real competition. For them money can be a means, but never – anend, the purpose of being a civil servant, because they’re convinced – and rightly so – that it’s always easy to earn more than they need.The other grouping – the “siloviki”, once again to be more precise – the “adepts at playing without rules”. There really are many like that in the siloviki organs, but definitely not a majority. And indeed there are many of them even in “nonsiloviki” circles. These are insecure people, compensating for their insecurity with access to violence. It is precisely because of insecurity in their prospects that power – and even more so, money – is a certain fetish for them. Insecurity about their own competitiveness gives rise also to the use of anti-democratic, silovik methods of political and business struggle. Insecurity about their own strengths, unbelief in their own people, gives rise also to the longing to “isolate oneself” from the outside world, not to allow people to truly express their will, etc.All this was already clear in 2002, and I came up “out of the trench” with open eyes then, at the February deliberation at the president’s. In the summer it still wasn’t obvious that we would lose, but that the crisis was close at hand, and that our adversaries do not have any barriers, was understood. I don’t know if it’s worth it to name names, but “that side” – this is Sechin and a bunch of bureaucrats of the “second echelon” (i.e., supporting him not only out of conviction, but also in the hope for advancement in service or because of kompromat had against them). This is both Zaostrovtsev and Biryukov, and many others. By the way, Ustinov and Patrushev maintained neutrality until the last moment. This is true. On “this” side, obviously, were Voloshin, Medvedev, Kasyanov, Chubais, Illarionov, Dvorkovich, even Gref – until a certain moment.G.CH. No doubt there was a point at which you understood that they won’t hesitate to arrest. Were hints made to you that it would be better for you to beat it out of here? Why didn’t you leave? Was there some kind of distinct threshold, some kind of point of no return, when you decided: let them lock me up, but I’m not leaving.M.KH. I could have left, but after Platon’s arrest I regarded this as betrayal. At the end of the summer I took a trip, said my goodbyes to my colleagues who were already beyond the border, and returned to Russia.G.CH. And in connection with this a question I really don’t want to ask. But it worries many, so I’ll ask it anyway. Were there minutes when you regretted that you hadn’t left?M.KH. And here – there’s schizophrenia. One half of me regretted even then, when leaving, that I would have to return, and has regrets about this every day that goes by far away from family, from home. But the other half – it answers to the sense of duty, thinks in categories of decency and betrayal and does not let [me] exist in peace. Perhaps I’ve got foolish criteria. Perhaps I should be more flexible. Even definitely [I should]. But I’m already 45, and they’re kind of formed [already]. I probably could step over myself, but then how to live, having taken this step – I don’t know. So there are two honest answers. Yes, I regret it every day. No, I don’t regret it, because, had I left, I would not be able to live.Continue reading Part 3 here. Click here to read Part 1.