Khodorkovsky as Sakharov

From Russia Profile, Ethan Burger’s contribution to the debate:

There is no doubt that the Russian authorities conducted what amounted to a “show trial” against Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Russian prosecution does not usually place on the Internet a detailed description of the crimes that a criminal allegedly committed prior to trial. Clearly, such actions were prejudicial. What was surprising was the poor quality of the case presented– it stated conclusions rather than convincing present facts.

In my view, Khodorkovsky’s greatest offense was that he did not show sufficient respect for Russian president Putin, and failed to understand the president’s objectives. In ancient Greece, hubris was a crime. The Russian Criminal Code does not identify either hubris or arrogance as a crime. Despite the efforts of Khodorkovsky’s courageous defense team, as well as the world’s human rights community, the fact that this principle was not followed did not matter.

Khodorkovsky understood that in a country that did not protect privateproperty rights and did not observe the rule of law, those holdingpolitical power could use the state to further their own personalinterests (and those of their favorites). Consequently, he looked forpolitical allies in Russia who opposed then-president Putin’s effortsto regain control over the Russian natural resources sector directly orindirectly, supported NGOs promoting human rights and the rule of thelaw in the country, criticized Putin’s policies publicly, and did nothide his own political ambitions.

Frankly, I was surprised that when he became president, Medvedev didnot press the “reset” button as a way of communicating to Russian stateofficials, Russian citizens, and other observers that he believed inthe rule of law and Russia was entering a new chapter in its history. In light of the obvious “irregularities” in Khodorkovsky’s andLebedev’s prosecution and sentencing, I naively thought they would bothbe released immediately. Since I thought that president Medvedev wouldnot want to challenge his mentor’s actions, I did not expect him toadmit that “errors were made.”