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Grigory Pasko: Is Chita Preparing for a Trial?

Is Chita Preparing for a Trial? By Grigory Pasko, journalist Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Yuri Schmidt has already said many times that the next trial in the “YUKOS case” is going to take place in Chita. So far, this is only conjecture. But more and more facts are beginning to appear that clearly point to this being the case. Local taxi drivers in Chita have told me that the ways and means of closing off the central streets of the city during the time when Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are delivered to the Oblast procuracy for familiarization with the case materials have been worked out to the smallest detail. The policemen in masks and with machine guns, the snipers on the rooftops of buildings – all this, too, has been honed to automated perfection. prokyr.jpg Photo of Oblast procuracy in Chita by Grigory Pasko On Friday evening and all day Saturday, I observed the police posts on Amurskaya street, where the Oblast court and procuracy buildings are located. The post by the procuracy was even manned on Sunday. On top of that, on weekdays and on Saturday, on every street corner in the vicinity of the procuracy you could see two or three persons in security guard uniforms (either policemen in black [Russian police ordinarily wear a blue-grey uniform—Trans.] or some kind of security guards). They were jumping around from one foot to the other trying to keep warm in Chita’s beastly cold winter weather. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Chita long enough to see the procedure for bringing Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to the procuracy. Eyewitnesses have told of three GIBDD [road police—Trans.] vehicles as escort cars, one KAMAZ truck with police OMON fighters, of two “gazelle” vans, in which the actual bodies of the “big-time plunderers of the national wealth” are brought over. Not to mention the snipers on the rooftops… Khodorkovsky turns out to be more of a big shot than Putin himself: the latter is driven around Moscow with less pomp. In general, Chita is a very convenient city for conducting Khodorkovsky’s next farce “trial” right here. Judge for yourselves. Concentrated all together in one spot are the administrations of the MVD and FSB, the SIZO [the prison where Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are being held—Trans.], and the police academy. The Oblast court and the Oblast procuracy. And the Ingodinsky Rayon Court is practically right next door to the SIZO. Journalists who have been to Chita will tell you that this little town is a nightmare from the point of view of state and other services. It is nearly impossible to obtain official information, because the official organs see an Enemy of the People in every journalist. Although, of course, a few things are changing for the better. For example, when I was in Chita the first time, there wasn’t a single normal restaurant in the center of the city. By my second visit, one had appeared. It’s called “Privoz”. A strange name, won’t you agree? [a rough translation is “what has been brought”—Rough Trans.] Could it have something to do with that procedure of “delivering” Khodorkovsky to the procuracy? privoz.jpg Photo of “Privoz” restaurant by Grigory Pasko The restaurant’s business card indicates that it serves “Russian, Soviet, and Anti-Soviet cuisine”. Brave stuff for Chita. Not to mention that the restaurant is located on Lenin Street in the new wing of the old building of the Trans-Baikal Railroad Administration. As has become my tradition, I spoke a lot with the local inhabitants. They didn’t love Khodorkovsky even before all this. But they love him even less now, after all those daily street closures. You see, they don’t associate the street closures with the cretinism of the local police/FSB authorities, but with Khodorkovsky personally. Chita8.jpg Photo of Chita in the morning from Titovskaya sopka hill by Grigory Pasko …The little old lady caretaker at the local museum tells me: “I worked all my life. My pension was 120 rubles [per month; she is most likely referring to pre-inflation times, when this was a very good amount (today it is worth about $4.50)—Currency Trans.]. And then these oligarchs came and it all disappeared. The pension became paltry. Prices for housing went up. In the stores everything’s expensive…”. All right, I say, but what does Khodorkovsky have to do with any of this? “But he’s stolen our oil”, she replies in the style of the procuracy-general. Okay, let’s say he did, I say. But has your pension increased now that Putin has locked Khodorkovsky up in jail? Have your housing and utilities costs gone down? Has your oil, your own dear mother, been returned to you? The woman is silent and looks at me intensely. And then, bending down, she utters that familiar and eternal Russian platitude: “All of them are scoundrels!”