I can’t say that I am entirely surprised that Russian prosecutors have finally dropped their case against Yukos lawyer Vasily Aleksanyan after the legal expiration of limitations. Nor do I think it is debatable that this was a gesture perfectly timed for Dmitry Medvedev’s friendship tour of the United States. But the vision of this man, sentenced to death with AIDS and cancer after two years of medical blackmail and unlawful imprisonment, being dragged before court today for the first time since being granted bail is just heartbreaking and dispiriting. The prosecutors declared that they “had no objection” to charges being dropped after the period of limitations had expired – but of course in any normal country, officers of the court would be duty-bound to push and advocate to make sure expired cases are thrown out.
I am happy for Vasily, grateful that he has been freed from the groundless charges, and I pray for his family and friends. But I don’t really see this as a sign of clemency or change, or a sudden recognition of judicial independence. Russia just admitted that it held an innocent individual for two years for no reason and nearly murdered him (much like Magnitsky) to apply pressure and obtain perjured testimony against other defendants. And yet everyone will applaud, nod with approval over the warming of relations, and chat about new investments.