RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Dec 27, 2010

A-woman-holds-a-picture-o-007.jpgTODAY: Khodorkovsky and Lebedev found guilty of embezzlement charges; Yukos founder judges Putin to be ‘pitiable’; US cables lament ‘rule-of-law gloss’; uncover deplorable prison conditions. Medvedev in Q+A cautions politicians against commenting on Khodorkovsky; takes different line on opposition to Putin. START passes in duma; FSB looking for merger with SVR? Anti-ethnic conflict protest in Moscow; new Gulag film; snow freezes activity in the capital

Former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev have been found guilty of money laundering by Judge Victor Danilkin at the culmination of their second trial, which has widely been seen as ‘a test of President Medvedev’s stated resolve to reform Russia’s judiciary and confront its notorious political partiality.  The verdict confirms the predictions of Khodorkovsky’s wife, Inna, who told SNOB magazine that, ‘My husband will stay in prison till 2012, that’s for sure. And who knows what will happen after that? No one’.   The court said it dropped some of the charges against the two men because the statute of limitations expired, but did not provide details; the two prisoners await sentencing.  A live broadcast was not permitted by the Khamovniki court, preventing over 100 journalists from covering the event.  Khodorkovsky has argued in a newspaper article that Putin has become the victim of his own machinations: ‘I suddenly realised I was sorry for this man – no longer young, but vigorous and horribly lonely in the face of a vast and unsympathetic country’.  The US embassy cables reveal deep cynicism about the validity of the trial: ‘it shows the effort that the GOR is willing to expend in order to save face, in this case by applying a superficial rule-of-law gloss to a cynical system where political enemies are eliminated with impunity’.  The leaked cables, provided by the Guardian, also offer an unnerving insight into Russia’s prison system.

The Washington Post reports that in President Medvedev’s live televised Q+A session, he took a markedly different attitude to Vladimir Putin on the Khodorkovsky case, commenting that ‘neither the president nor any other state official has the right to comment on this particular case before the verdict is passed’.  The President also acknowledged opposition members ‘Kasyanov, Nemtsov, Limonov, Kasparov’ (who were heavily criticized by the Prime Minister in his Q+A) as ‘public politicians’.  Highlights of the interview can be found on Reuters.

The President is reportedly very pleased that Obama managed to pass the START treaty ‘under very difficult circumstances’.  The state duma has approved the new treaty 350-58, but will delay the final vote until next month.  What next on the nuclear reduction agenda?  Citing Russian experts, the Telegraph says that the FSB security service hopes to incorporate the SVR foreign intelligence service, which has suffered several blows to its reputation of late, to recreate a single KGB-esque organization. 

Police have detained several people suspected of planning the assault on Khimki forest ecology activist and journalist Konstantin Fetisov, who was beaten into a coma on November 4.  Several thousand people chanting ‘No to Fascism!’ have rallied in Moscow in protest against the ethnic clashes that the city has witnessed recently.  Icy weather brought chaos to Moscow on the weekend, closing Domodedovo airport, leaving more than 300,000 people and 14 hospitals without electricity.  Historian Anne Applebaum is interviewed on RFE/RL about the new Gulag film ‘The Way Back’

PHOTO: Leaked WikiLeaks cable about the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose picture is brandished at a rally in Moscow, reaffirm US diplomats’ view of Russia as a ‘kleptocratic mafia state’.  (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)