How serious is President Dmitry Medvedev about repairing Russia’s corrupt courts? A trial opening this week in Moscow could be a key test. Former Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was jailed in 2004 on tax-evasion charges after vexing the Kremlin by supporting opposition groups, faces new charges of stealing 350 million tons of oil–an amount, his lawyers point out, that’s greater than Yukos’s entire production. If convicted, he could get 22 years tacked onto the eight-year term he’s serving in Siberia. The latest trial is a Putin-era legacy (it’s been two years coming) and some Kremlinites fear Khodorkovsky could still be a rallying point for opposition if released.
The new trial will be a bellwether of how much influence Medvedev really wields. While he’s avoided comment on the case for fear of seeming to criticize Putin, Medvedev’s steadily projected a liberal message of judicial independence and the rule of law. A fresh conviction for Khodorkovsky would be catastrophic for Medvedev’s power.