It's hard to imagine a charade more obscene and absurd than the one that developed last week as jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky applied for parole after five years in custody on an eight-year sentence for alleged tax fraud. Should parole be denied, he plans to make a show of appealing directly to "President" Medvedev for justice.
Remember Martin Luther King's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail"? We've heard no such pronouncements from Khodorkovsky, who has been so uncommunicative that his own lawyers over at Robert Amsterdam's blog are often reduced to reporting on his activities by relying on mass media reports. We have no idea, in fact, what plans if any he has for reorganizing Russia's government in a civilized and democratic manner, or indeed what if anything he believes should be Russia's future course.
If Khodorkovsky were to be released, the only basis upon which it could occur would be his secret undertaking to support the Putin dictatorship in all perpetuity. His release on parole would imply that he recognizes the charges against him were valid, and is acquiescing not only in his conviction but also in the nationalization of his company, Yukos. It would confirm what the Kremlin has said about him all along, that he was never a pro-democracy opposition leader, only a corrupt businessman looking for all the loot he could grab.
And besides all that, nobody seems to have noticed that the Kremlin is in the process of filing new charges against Khodorkovsky, charges that could keep him in prison for many more years. They're hardly going to release him on parole if they are serious about those charges. So even if Khodorkovsky won parole on the old charges, he'd be kept in prison pending the new ones. As the International Herald Tribune reported: "He is now accused of laundering almost $30 billion and misappropriating 350 million tons of oil."
The best possible spin that could be put on all this is that Khodorkovsky, knowing he faces many more years behind bars, is tweaking "President" Medvedev's nose by making the application, calling his bluff on alleged legal reform in Russia and holding him up to the ridicule of the world. It's also possible that he wants to appeal the denial of parole to the European Court for Human Rights, proving to that tribunal that the alleged infractions he has been charged with while in prison were a fallacious pretext to keep him out of Putin's hair. He says he can produce the testimony of a former cellmate who was induced to lie about the infractions, and that would certainly be embarrassing to the Kremlin.
But is this really the best Khodorkovsky can manage by way of protest against the Kremlin's malignant misdeeds? By applying for parole, Khodorkovsky is making it seem to his supporters that he might possibly cut a back-room deal with the Kremlin, and in the wake of his political silence this possibility can only be unsettling. Indeed, if Khodorkovsky were to walk free, then his ongoing challenge to his conviction in the EHCR would lose all meaning, and his entire incarceration would take on the aspect of a cosmic charade.
If Mikhail Khodorkovsky isn't interested in trying to become Russia's Martin Luther King or Gandhi, then he's just one of innumerable Russians who have been victimized by a corrupt justice system and there is no reason to pay him any more attention than any of them. It's time for Mr. K to fish or cut bait.