New York Times Magazine Profiles Mikhail Khodorkovsky

mbk111709.jpgAndrew Meier has penned an epic, wide ranging profile of the second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in The New York Times Magazine, which captures a sense of the courtroom, the personalities, and the historical context of the affair.  For readers of this blog it is unlikely to have new information, but it represents an important item of reference for those who want to learn about the case. 

Moscow would soon grow famous for operatic oligarchs and Byzantine intrigues, but Khodorkovsky never got caught in a compromising position — never snared at an Alpine resort, a Moscow casino or on a Riviera yacht. Girls, power, even the money, seemed to hold no magic. Where others basked in pomp, he was shy and painfully soft-spoken; you never heard his squeaky voice, a semitone deeper than Mike Tyson’s, at dacha parties for the foreign press, let alone on television. He divorced young but stayed on good terms with his first wife. Inna, his second, he met at the institute. Khodorkovsky was never flashy — he wore jeans and turtlenecks; the family vacationed in Finland — but he radiated the unlikely allure of a muscular technocrat. And yet, even at the top, he seemed adrift, unsure of his role in society. Unlike older Jewish oligarchs, men like Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, who were often animated by old scores to settle, Khodorkovsky did not seem to consider himself an outsider. Lacking a public persona, he came to personify, by default, the revenge of the Soviet geek. (…)

“WHO FEARS A FREE Khodorkovsky?” asked MarinaFilippovna Khodorkovskaya, the defendant’s 75-year-old mother. “Forgiveme if I’m blunt, but it’s Putin, and all those around him who stoleYukos.” Marina Filippovna comes to court as often as possible. A sturdyformer engineer, she has never shied from speaking her mind. Asked bythe BBCwhat she would do if she met Putin, Marina Filippovna replied withoutpause, “I would kill him.” “It’s not for me to say what led to allthis,” she told me, as we stood together one morning, awaiting thearrival of her son, in the dilapidated Khamovnichesky District Court incentral Moscow. She raised both hands to conjure the years of turmoil.”I only know this case is about politics and money. But which is moreimportant, only those on high” — again she gestured, this time to theceiling — “know the truth.”

The answer is unlikely to emerge inJudge Viktor Danilkin’s courtroom, a humble affair on the third floorof a squat building perched above the Moscow River. Each time I went tocourt, over the course of two weeks earlier this year, I sat a few feetfrom the defendant. It was a scene to boggle Kafka’s imagination.

Khodorkovskywould spend hours, pink highlighter in one hand, yellow Post-its inanother, meticulously winnowing down a stack of papers balanced on hiscrossed legs. He sat on a bench, locked inside a narrow rectangle ofsteel and bulletproof glass, along with his former deputy Lebedev. “Theaquarium,” the guards have nicknamed the new model of the Soviet-eradefendants’ cage. The wall of glass alone, Khodorkovsky later said in amissive, weighs a ton and a half. Court officials asked the defenseteam, a roster as long and distinguished as any in the annals ofRussian jurisprudence, to move their desks away from the cage. “Theyfeared the floorboards would buckle,” Khodorkovsky explained.

Thetrial is open, but only three or four reporters (all local) show upregularly. One morning, Marina and her husband, Boris, sat in the frontrow. On another day, Garry Kasparov,the chess grandmaster turned opposition leader, anchored a row in back,his bodyguard nearby. Outside the courthouse, a car blasted Russiantechno, and atop the steep riverbank nearby, lovers mingled on benchesand a stray drunk slumbered. The audience, rarely more than two dozen,was dominated by a female crew of Khodorkovsky supporters — the mostdevoted was a schoolteacher on a daily vigil. One day the supporterspassed out yellow and green scarves, the Yukos colors. Nearly everyone,including the journalists, tied them around their necks.

Artwork is exclusive copyright of Алексей Ермолаев and