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WSJ: Putin’s Prisoner

From the Wall Street Journal editorial page:

Putin’s Prisoner Khodorkovsky dared entertain political ambition. Five years to the day after his arrest and incarceration in a Siberian prison camp, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky might have a rueful reason to smile. The ruble is at a two-year low, the Russian stock market is down 70% from its highs, and the price of energy is plunging. The bill for the Kremlin’s economic cronyism and disdain for the rule of law is coming due.

Mr. Khodorkovsky isn’t the only victim of Russia’s descent into what its own president has called “legal nihilism,” but he is surely the most emblematic. At the time of his arrest on questionable tax charges, Yukos was one of Russia’s better-run and more transparent companies. Even worse, from the Kremlin’s point of view, was Mr. Khodorkovsky’s willingness to support opposition parties and entertain political ambitions of his own.Russian and foreign businessmen have since understood that political obeisance is a necessary condition of economic survival, though not a sufficient one: Ask British Petroleum. The Kremlin could get away with its expropriations as long as the commodity boom lasted and there was fast money to be made.Now investors are fleeing to safety, even as the Kremlin remains in denial. President Dmitry Medvedev insists that “Russia has not yet been caught in this whirlpool and has the opportunity to escape it.” Russian prosecutors are also gearing for a second trial against Mr. Khodorkovsky, this time in an even more dubious case that also potentially involves all of Yukos’s senior management as well as its roughly 100,000 former employees. The word for this is “purge.”Should the day come that Mr. Medvedev wants to get serious about restoring investor confidence, he could send no better signal than to drop the second case and let Mr. Khodorkovsky go free. For that, however, he would first have to free himself from the rule of now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.