It is interesting to watch Rosneft’s fortunes rise as those of Yukos are in freefall. Rosneft’s landmark $60 billion deal with China this week marks a history of cooperation between the two, as it was Chinese banks that loaned Rosneft the $25 billion it needed to finance its takeover of Yukos’ largest production unit in 2005, and clever China was one of the few countries that did not criticise the move. But as Igor Sechin eagerly announced that new agreements with China could lead to a total deal value of $270 billion, the Kremlin has been taking the persecution of Yukos up a notch. Things have snowballed since the fleeing of liberal economist Sergei Guriev, who left Russia after being plagued by requests to forward his personal documents and emails to investigators, all supposedly in connection with his role in research work regarding the case against former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, which led to he and his associate, Platon Lebedev, being acquitted of some of their charges. Now two further people connected with the same research report – the prominent legal expert Tamara Morschchakova, and lawyer Mikhail Subbotin – have been summoned for questioning by the Investigative Committee.
But it doesn’t end there. With Khodorkovsky behind bars, the Kremlin is now setting its target on Yukos co-founder Leonid Nevzlin. Already sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia (Nevzlin fled to Israel in 2003), additional charges have been brought against him, adding six years to his current sentence. And the Kremlin’s state television channel NTV apparently aired a documentary last night (on Khodorkovsky’s birthday) which unambiguously portrayed Nevzlin and Khodorkovsky as murderers, alleging that they killed the mayor of Nefteyugansk in 1998. (According to the Moscow Times, the channel ‘has produced a number of films accusing Kremlin opponents of criminal activity’, which will neither come as a surprise nor make any difference to the old adage that mud sticks.)
Needless to say, it does not seem likely that Vladimir Putin’s plan of amnesty for economic crimes will extend to Yukos’ former employers (although, of course, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer slated Putin’s bill as weak enough to have been done ‘for little more than appearance’).