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Taking On “Legal Nihilism”

Peter Finn of the Washington Post was answering questions from readers online earlier today, and fielded this one on the new administration’s policy toward the Khodorkovsky case:

Harrogate, U.K.: The British Sunday Times reports that president-elect Medvedev strongly has criticized the Russian judiciary, saying it must be reformed to put an end to “legal nihilism.” As a conscientious lawyer, is there a chance that as president he will call for a review of contentious cases? I am thinking particularly of the manipulation of the judicial system which led to the imprisonment, following a show trial, of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, and the new unreal charges now being cynically brought against them. Peter Finn: This is one of a number of broadly similar questions about Mikhail Khodorokovsky and Platon Lebedev, the Yukos Oil Co. executives who are now serving prison terms after trials that critics charged were politically motivated. It’s worth remembering that Aleksandr Voloshin, former head of the presidential administration, resigned when Khodorkovsky was arrested. Medvedev replaced him. And to date Medvedev has shown no willingness to question the prosecution. Whether he might harbor private doubts and act on them, I frankly don’t know. But I doubt he will do anything quickly as his first priority, if it is to be a genuinely Medvedev presidency, as distinct from Putin ruling from the prime minister’s office, he will take some time before making any controversial decisions that break with the Putin era. And reexamining the Khodorkovsky case or releasing them would certainly be that. There are reports here that Voloshin has been advising Medvedev and might take a position in the new presidential administration. We’ll see. But that might augur well for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev.