Medvedev Needs to Go Beyond Political Theatre

mbk120909.jpgFrom an article in the Canadian magazine Macleans:

For Medvedev, freeing Khodorkovsky, currently imprisoned in a Siberian work camp, could have signalled the fundamental philosophical and political shift he says he is committed to making. It could also have made Medvedev a force within Russia, earned him praise from the West, and removed the Yukos stain that hovers over the Kremlin to this day, says Lucas. To do that, however, he would have had to overrule Putin, and all those who benefited from the dismantling of Yukos. In the end, say experts, the decision was likely moot: Khodorkovsky’s absurdist, second trial on charges of embezzlement, now entering its 10th month, is a showpiece of political repression designed to keep Khodorkovsky in jail “until he rots,” says Washington-based expert Martha Olcott, senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

To some, Medvedev’s recent speeches have evoked memories of perestroika and glasnost, and comparisons to modernizer and reformer Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev, with a single act, the 1986 release of Andrei Sakharov–the Soviet Union’s most famous political dissident–signalled radical change: that his liberalization was real, Sakharov later explained, not mere “theatre” but “sincere, true and genuine.” In Medvedev’s case, the new trial for Khodorkovsky, who has said he does not understand the charges against him and could face 22 more years in prison, epitomizes the “legal nihilism” the president is vowing to combat, and sends the opposite signal entirely.