On Tuesday in Moscow the first hearings will be held for the so-called “second trial” of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, though to use such language of legalism may be misleading in describing this process. In the preliminary hearings leading up to this week, so far observers have been treated to a rerun of the basic and regular violations of the first trial: a catalogue of show trial hijinks contributing to a fraudulent scheme by certain elements of the Russian government to produce another photocopy of the prosecutor’s indictment (some may recall that during the first trial, the judge’s cut-and-paste decisions often contained not only the same language but also the same typos as the prosecutor’s submissions).
The open cruelty of this scheme was echoed by the banishment of Khodorkovsky to Siberia, the deportation or attempted disbarment of his lawyers, the threatened indictment of a broader net of allies, and ultimately by the torture and vicious assault on his former lawyer, Vasily Alexanyan. In this “legal” case, one of the most important in post-Soviet Russia, we have prosecutors withholding anti-retroviral drugs and painkillers while this man was held in inhumane conditions, to the point that Alexanyan was weakened to full blown AIDS and lymphatic cancer, tuberculosis and near blindness. Alexanyan’s only real crime was his refusal to perjure himself to advance an overtly criminal case. Criminally conceived and criminally executed to justify the lockup of a political threat, a massive theft of private assets and the destruction of hundreds of lives connected to the once great company -dare I say the name -Yukos.
Independent experts both within Russia and outside have stated the obvious – that the new charges themselves in this renewed attack againstKhodorkovsky can make no logical sense. This is perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of the second trial: the fact that its authors disregard any pretense of disbelief, and are not bothered by the permanent damage done to Russia’s reputation and rule of law.
Firstly, the numbers are impossibly large – they allege that Khodorkovsky and his partners embezzled moreoil than Yukos produced, and then personally laundered most of theproceeds of sale in an allegedly Stakhanovite scheme that exceeds theability of even the most gullible to believe – all under the eyes of the best auditing firms of the West. Secondly, these charges stand in absolute contradiction to the first set of charges on which he was convicted, which see him doing eight yearsin hell for allegedly using fraudulent tax shelters on behalf ofYukos. Ifthis case is not the living and breathing reality of PresidentMedvedev’s openly-maligned “legal nihilism”, then what is?
To use a buzzword of the day, may I ask, as this 21st century showtrial begins, who exactly is hitting the reset button? A leadership that isallowed to duck the tough questions concerning its treatment of its owncitizens is unlikely to change its conduct, Andrei Sakharov once argued. This travesty of Russian justice, as well as numerous other recent examples, has largely been greeted with silence by the rest of the world. And it’s now time to ask ourselves, what does this silence, this unwillingness to demand answers to difficult questions, say about us?
Oddly, given the fact that this courtroom has already been turned into a political theatre, Mikhail Khodorkovsky is one of the only ones who is not on trial. Furthermore it is not just Russia’s rule of law, reputation, and future trajectory in global relations which is on trial here, but also that of the West, I would argue. Beyond our tendencytowards appeasement, we are on trial for our willingness to convincethe Russian populace that the corruption ofits leadership is a tolerable inconvenience. We are on trial for our open assistance to the criminal elements of the state, helping to launder some of the assets seizedfrom Yukos with IPOs and partnership deals (for example, one could possibly raise questions about the re-acquisition of Gazprom Neft from its temporary European owners).
Likewise we are on trial for our willingness to loan untoldbillions to men with epaulets, blindly following the mercantileinterests of those who happen to be on top ofRussia’s power vertical today. These same people have engaged incorruption so pervasive that Russia’s institutional devaluation makesthe rouble’s devaluation the least of the country’s problems. Peoplewho conspire with Iran while resetting with Obama and people who fearonly one thing -being held to account.
So who else is on trial in Russia today? WE ARE.