The Issue: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man, was convicted of stealing $27 billion worth of oil from his company, Yukos Oil, between 1998 and 2003. Canada and many other nations said the trial and conviction were unfair and politically motivated: Khodorkovsky is an opponent of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Financial Times: “When Mikhail Khodorkovsky was found guilty of fraud and tax evasion in 2005, many observers were prepared to believe he was guilty as charged. The injustice was that the punishment was selective. Other Russian tycoons, the infamous ‘oligarchs,’ engaged in similar abuses in the 1990s. Only Mr. Khodorkovsky, however, who had committed the cardinal sin of openly defying the then president Vladimir Putin, went to jail. This time is different. It is hard to see the new charges of which Russia’s former richest man has been convicted — essentially that he stole the entire output of his Yukos oil company over several years — as anything but fanciful.”
Toronto Star: “This looks like nothing more than a Soviet-era ‘show trial’ ordered by the powers-that-be to sideline a rival and to warn off other rich figures who might be tempted to dabble in politics.”
Alexander Minkin, Moskovsky Komsomolets: “Those who hoped that judge Viktor Danilkin would suddenly find sufficient civic courage to pass a fair verdict can now give up that hope for good. He found a different kind of courage. Because it is of course not easy to come out to people and deliver a guilty verdict after the outrage that has been taking place in court for the past two years.”
Simon Tisdall, Guardian: “Whatever else he is, Putin is implacable, relentless and unpitying when dealing with perceived enemies. In this, he follows a long-established Russian leadership tradition, and the public seems to like it, affording him approval ratings of 70 per cent or above.”
Daily Telegraph: “Take the cases of Liu Xiaobo, who yesterday marked his 55th birthday in prison in China, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky …These two men are being hounded because they challenge the status quo, which in China is the political monopoly of the Communist Party, and in Russia, bureaucratic cronyism. In both countries, those who have grown rich and powerful under such conditions want to keep things as they are. Yet the very intensity of the persecution reveals a fear at the heart of each system that its authority is more fragile than it might appear. Does the emperor have any clothes?”
Economist: “What does this imply for Russia’s politics in 2011? One certainty is that the United Russia party, devoted to the political status quo, will win the parliamentary elections in December. The second certainty is that President Dmitry Medvedev will continue to be overshadowed by his prime minister (and predecessor as president), Vladimir Putin. After all, Mr. Medvedev promised at his inauguration in 2008 to end ‘legal nihilism’ — and that pledge now looks either hopelessly naïve or horribly cynical.”
Washington Post: “Support for Russia’s membership in the World Trade Organization should be put on hold. If there are no such consequences for the Khodorkovsky case, Mr. Putin’s victory will be complete — and Mr. Obama’s diplomacy wasted.”
Yvonne Ridley, Tehran Times: “The USA is still squatting in Cuba, overseeing the continuing festering mess caused by one of the biggest boils on the face of human rights — yes, Guantanamo is approaching a decade of incarcerating men without charge or trial. At least Khodorkovsky had his day in an open court and can appeal.”
Russian Foreign Ministry: “We are counting on everyone to mind his own business — both at home and in the international arena.”
TheStar Talking Points: Are Russian courts jailing criminals — or political threats?
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