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The Khodorkovsky Test for Medvedev

From a Washington Post editorial:

IT’S BEEN nearly a year since Dmitry Medvedev took office as Russia’s president following a much-publicized vow to attack what he called the “legal nihilism” of his country. His record so far is not looking good: Murders of Kremlin opponents have continued, both at home and abroad, without any action against the perpetrators — even though two of the suspects named by foreign police agencies sit in the Russian parliament. Mr. Medvedev raised some eyebrows when he met privately this year with the editors of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta following the broad-daylight murder of a reporter just blocks from the Kremlin. He told President Obama that he was concerned about the beating of human rights activist Lev Ponomarev on the night before last week’s summit meeting. But Mr. Medvedev’s words have yet to be followed by any tangible actions.

Now the former law professor faces a test that should settle whetherhe is capable of altering the authoritarian regime established byVladimir Putin. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oil magnate whose 2003arrest and subsequent trialmarked Mr. Putin’s pivot away from Russia’s experiment with liberalism,is on trial again. As in the Soviet era, the case is both a blatantsetup and a grand piece of political theater intended to demonstratethe regime’s ability to crush its opposition. If Mr. Medvedev allows itto go forward to its scripted conclusion — a lengthy extension of Mr.Khodorkovsky’s sentence to a Siberian prison camp — the point will beproved that Russia still has no rule of law but only a ruler.

The charges against Mr. Khodorkovsky are so convoluted, thedefendant said in his opening statement this week, that “I wascompletely deprived of the right . . . to know what I have been chargedwith.” In his previous trial, Mr. Khodorkovsky and co-defendant PlatonLebedev were accused of directing tax evasion by their Yukos oilcompany, which was eventually confiscated and sold off to statecompanies. Now they are charged with “embezzling” the same oil thatthey supposedly failed to pay taxes on. If they are convicted, theycould be sentenced to another two decades in prison.

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