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Inaugurating Legal Nihilism

The Washington Post is running an editorial about the inauguration, bringing back the whole “legal nihilism” beat. Given the strong words from the new president, it strikes me that Medvedev could either make important progress on rule of law, or has set himself up for a colossal hypocrisy. Then again, I suppose Putin never looked back from his “dictatorship of the law” statements.

To begin, Mr. Medvedev could be asked for action on the 14 unsolved murders of journalists during Mr. Putin’s tenure — such as that of Anna Politkovskaya, in whose case suspects have been identified but never tried. Britain should invite the new president to cooperate in pressing Scotland Yard’s charges against a former KGB agent in the assassination of a Putin critic in London. If that’s too hard, Mr. Medvedev at least could end the use of the law as a weapon against opposition leaders, independent civic organizations and human rights groups — not to mention Russian and foreign businesses whose assets are coveted by the Kremlin and its friends. Tax and environmental inspectors repeatedly found ways in the Putin years to shut down offices or force sales on concessionary terms; several intellectuals who criticized the government were imprisoned on bogus espionage charges. Russia’s most successful business executive of the 1990s, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, still languishes in a Siberian prison long after his Yukos oil company was confiscated.