The verdict in the Khodorkovsky trial: defending the system’s last line

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The Izvestia newspaper did a poll on its website, asking how long it might take to read out the verdict in the YUKOS case. Replies proved discouraging: only 20% hope that a week will suffice for the court; 22% more mentioned two weeks, while 23% of respondents think it will take at least a month. Finally, 35% of respondents were jokers and optimists who picked the “eight years” option.

The media has already described the events in the Meshchansky Court as the “Chinese water torture,” a “prolonged tragic farce,” “PR justice,” and “Meshchansky hypnotism.”

Given that the verdict is 1,500 pages long, and is being read at the rate of about 50 pages a day, the court will actually need at least a month to complete this event.

The press is lost in conjectures: is that strange regime of announcing the verdict – three hours per day – is linked to the police schedule? Or, the problems of ensuring the safe work of the court (according to Lebedev’s lawyer Yelena Liptser, “the guards on the street cannot hold the defense any longer.”)

Khodorkovsky’s defense team believes this is a deliberate strategy. Lawyer Robert Amsterdam told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “this will last as long as the political authorities want it to last” – to ensure that the public, including the media, loses interest in the trial. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the developments prove the existence of a “strict plan for media coverage of the most notorious trial of the year.” In addition to reducing the interest to the trial, this plan has other goals – switching attention of the media to other news, as well as “forming the background favorable for announcing a stern sentence on former top managers of YUKOS.”

Nobody doubts that the court’s sentence will be “harsh or very harsh”: the text of the verdict is almost identical to the indictment written by the Prosecutor General’s Office, entirely ignoring the arguments of the defense.

The Kommersant newspaper notes that Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said at the start of the trial: “Unfortunately, we can’t put Khodorkovsky away for more than ten years.”

Meanwhile, says Kommersant, ten years is the maximum sentence for the heaviest crime Khodorkovsky was charged with – under Article 159 of the Criminal Code (large-scale fraud in an organized group). “It means that Khodorkovsky will not get a heavier sentence, but neither will he be released in the near future,” maintains Kommersant.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that the number of picketers representing the defendants by the building of the Meshchansky Court is reducing in number each day, whereas the number of organized picketers who demand a demonstrative punishment for Khodorkovsky and Lebedev is growing noticeably.

Garry Kasparov, who nearly was injured in actions of the OMON on the very first day of announcing the verdict (as reported to the press, his own bodyguards returned him by a miracle), flew to Novosibirsk and Tomsk to form the Unified Civic Front opposed to the presidential power.

“We are playing chess with the power, whereas it is playing Chapayev to us,” Kasparov stated on the eve of his departure. Novye Izvestia newspaper cites another statement by a renowned chess player and a politician: “My associates and I are not putting together a Front just because we like the word, but when the authorities declare war, we have to respond to the challenge.”

At the same time, maintains Novye Izvestia, the word “front” implies that the matter concerns a certain supra-party union. Meanwhile, Kasparov’s Free Choice 2008 Committee wasted over a year in futile attempts to consolidate the leading liberal parties and and had to discard this idea: Yabloko and the URF have already said they will go into the election campaign of 2007 separately.

Mr. Kasparov called his associates to initiate street protests, not waiting for support of the status leftist parties.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta maintains leader of the Free Choice 2008 Committee asked supporters of Khodorkovsky who gathered by the building of the Meshchansky Court on Monday: “Do you see Chubais here? I don’t. Moreover, the URF is going through a split now. Chubais is a class A official who has nothing to do with the democratic movement; he is focusing on RAO UES.”

Ivan Starikov, secretary of the URF federal political council, says in the same issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “Nobody is disputing Anatoly Chubais’s role as a political legend and founder of the right-wing movement in Russia.” In addition, he’s also the “architect of privatization in Russia” and his major goal now is to complete efforts to restructure the electrical energy sector and privatize the electricity monopoly, RAO Unified Energy Systems. Therefore, some of the rightist members assume that “politically speaking, that makes Chubais a hostage of the Kremlin.”

According to former Chubais’ associates, today he is forced “to turn the party over to political consultants who drool at a chance to follow any order from the Kremlin.”

In the opinion of Ivan Starikov, we are witnessing a conflict of interests: “Chubais has to make a choice. Either he remains the liberals’ political and moral leader and becomes the leader of the URF, resigning from state service – or he admits in public that his interests as the chief executive of a major state-controlled company are incompatible with the activities of an opposition leader and openly distances himself from the party.”

According to Starikov, a third option is most deplorable: it “comes down to the URF disbanding itself, in recognition of the utter failure of the liberal political project in Russia.”

Garry Kimovich Kasparov is unlikely to assent to this.

However, Chubais has enough problems without polemics with his associates of the democratic circles.

The media reported this week that RAO UES has become another victim of the Federal Tax Service: a bill of 3.7 billion has been presented to the energy monopoly, for back taxes in 2001.

“What is the fault of RAO UES?” asks Izvestia. The allowance used by the energy company allows reduction of the taxed profit by the sum that the company has spent on financing of the so-called investments in production. This allowance was abolished relatively recently, at the beginning of 2002, but had been very popular among Russian companies.

This story serves as another vindication: nobody is secure from meeting the same fate as YUKOS.

Experts approached by Izvestia say that the attempt on the life of Anatoly Chubais, the searches of his dacha, and tax audits are all linked.

Mikhail Delyagin, director of the Globalization Institute, whom Izvestia applied provided with the unambiguous explanation for the events: “the ‘St. Petersburg clan’ is using these methods in an attempt to establish control over RAO UES.”

Delyagin adds, “If, in the near future, Chubais receives a new deputy for finance from St. Petersburg who starts to really manage the company, the tax claims against Chubais will disappear.”

“All experts agreed that in the YUKOS affair, tax legislation was applied retrospectively. After this success, many other companies started receiving back tax claims,” Delyagin stresses.

Indeed, RAO UES is not an exception. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the recent claims of the tax bodies to diamond company ALROSA are linked to the government’s decision to raise its stake in the capital of ALROSA to a majority holding, especially since the issue of partnership between Russian diamond company ALROSA and the Democratic Republic of Congo, renowned for its unique diamond deposits, should be decided within several days.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “If ALROSA manages to get access to this region, its capitalization will rise considerably… It means the diamond giant will become a more attractive asset for the state, which has been stating its grievances more clearly of late.”

According to the newspaper, the visit of Alexander Nichiporuk, president of ALROSA, in April made Russian security structures more active: “it became evident that the dialog is more likely to come about.” Over 2005, the entire amount of capital investment is expected to total almost 14 billion rubles.

Undoubtedly, the company which has similar capital cannot fail to draw attention of the corresponding bodies.

Valery Nazarov, director of the Federal Property Management Agency, (FAUFI) told in his interview with Argumenty i Fakty of late: “if someone outscores you by violating the rules, be sure – the laws of economics would return the success you deserve.”

This is more correct, notes Nazarov, that everything wasn’t entirely correct in the previous privatization under Chubais: “Wealth of the state was created by everyone but was acquired by a few people. All this happened accompanied with talk like this: we are more active, while you are idlers and drunks. People are offended by this.”

However, Nazarov thinks that revision of privatization results “is a very difficult matter. As to me, I would never become a judge.”

This standing is undoubtedly of interest, not for readers of popular Argumenty i Fakty alone. Reports have appeared in the media of late that FAUFI director is intended for Vladimir Putin’s successor in 2008.

However, in the opinion of Novaya Gazeta, this promotion of Valery Nazarov as “the 2008 candidate of Sechin” could prove to be a disservice. For instance, it wouldn’t occur to anyone to accuse Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, or Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, of disloyalty to the incumbent president. But “there would be a great many people willing to clamp down on a medium-level official – who is not a federal minister but infringes on something sacred.”

However, some circumstances are favoring Nazarov. First of all, he’s from the “St. Petersburg clan.” As they say, this accounts for many things.

His career began in St. Petersburg with position of deputy director of the city’s housing agency in 1994 and ended with the rank of deputy governor to Governor Vladimir Yakovlev in 2003. In January-March 2004 Valery Nazarov was chief of the Main Supervisory Department of the presidential administration.

Novaya Gazeta says: “Rumor has it that members of various St. Petersburg factions – Dmitri Medvedev and Dmitri Kozak (the ‘lawyers’), and Viktor Ivanov (a ‘secret service man’) – insisted on dragging him into a post formerly occupied by such distinguished persons as Boldyrev, Kudrin and Vladimir Putin. However, Nazarov didn’t linger in this post, moving to FAUFI director in two months.”

In general, notes Novaya Gazeta, “he’s quite a dull personality.” This could be another lucky chance for him: it is not ruled out that this very person is required to fill in the post of “technical president,” who “must spend a term at the Kremlin until Vladimir Putin doesn’t get the right to run for president in 2012 again.”

However, in the opinion of Novaya Gazeta, Nazarov’s “comrades on the bureaucratic guild” are not likely to allow him to take use of this lucky, but prematurely promulgated chance: “To put it simpler, he would be swallowed.”

However, if this happens, Valery Nazarov might find himself in a good company. Media reports of an imminent Cabinet dismissal resumed this week, though these rumors seemed to have vanished as the anti-monetization protests died down.

Gazeta notes that at one time, following Mikhail Kasianov’s dismissal, a furious power-struggle for that post broke out among factions within Putin’s team – factions usually known as the siloviki (security and law enforcement people) and the liberals, or the St. Petersburg people and Yeltsin’s Family. People mentioned as potential prime ministers included Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov (for the siloviki), along with Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and deputy Kremlin chief-of-staff Dmitri Kozak (for the liberals). However, notes the newspaper, “at some point, the list of contenders became too long, and the power of the factions behind them became too great.” Therefore, Putin “made his own choice” and nominated Mikhail Fradkov, “whose name had never been mentioned in any predictions about who might become prime minister.”

However, force majeure circumstances led to unexpected decisions.

As a result, it turned out that over three years the Cabinet has failed to propose the definitive action program for 2005-2008, or praise with success in the mission of doubling the GDP, which, as the president has mentioned of late, “nobody has canceled.”

The story with monetization of benefits displayed “incapability of carrying on with the reforms which have been announced and have already been launched,” Andrei Ryabov, research council member at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Gazeta.

Paradoxically enough, however, monetization actually extended the present government’s lifespan by a few months – it is widely known, notes Gazeta that Putin doesn’t like passing decisions under pressure.

The time of Fradkov’s Cabinet has probably come now. “There are some grounds for a Cabinet changeover at this particular time: in his address, President Putin set out his strategic goals and declared his intention to break out of the inertia scenario for national development,” Konstantin Simonov, general director of the Political Conjuncture Center, told Gazeta.

Not to mention the fact that the media obviously need new pleas for public debating – in addition to that happening in the Meshchansky Court of Moscow today.

Indeed, Viktor Yerofeyev says in Moskovskiye Novosti, “Mikhail Khodorkovsky could be the hero of our time,” a “new person,” a capitalist who had founded Russia’s most successful company and, instead of “buying lots of yachts to travel the sea” showed concern for Russia’s prospects, its global computerization, took up charity. The point is: “his political ambitions are not clear to the end:” what if he becomes president one day?”

In the opinion of the author, “the trouble is that a smart, practical, enterprising person” is doomed in Russia – not even to jealousy – but for “normal dislike so typical of Russians.” Yerofeyev says on behalf of a conventional majority of ordinary Russian citizens: “Why the hell do we need this fastidious man? He’s alone clean and we are all dirty. He’s a teetotal, and we are those who drink.”

According to Yerofeyev, Russia is more likely to love the prosecutor who is Khorodkovsky’s opponent: “Although the prosecutor is ready to sentence the people, as under Stalin, come what may – he’s with us anyway: some will be executed, while others who are similar will grow again. We are the populace.”

Moreover, says Yerofeyev, in defiance of alarms of the democrats and debating in the media, “no crisis of liberalism has ever happened and would never occur in our country – because liberalism has never existed here. The populace won’t tolerate this.”

As for the current trial, this is not a political theater, as Khodorkovsky’s defense views it; this is more likely to be defense of the system at a vital moment: “This is the defense of Stalingrad. No retreat!”

Abandoning the current positions would amount to finding yourself in a completely different country, with a different history and a different people. That scenario belongs to the realm of pure fantasy.

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