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Monday, February 12, 2007

Russia Even Manages to Piss off Canada!

When you can manage to piss of the Canadians, you know that you are just about as extreme as you can get. Leave it to Russia! From the Financial Post of Canada:

Stop Tolerating Russian Tyranny

Billionaire "oligarch" Roman Abramovich was once asked what advice he would give to young people who wanted to make money in Russia. "Do not imagine," he said, "that you will never go to jail."

Mr. Abramovich is one of the lucky ones. He took the money and ran, and is now most famous for his ruble revitalization of British soccer club Chelsea. However, his warning about the link between business and incarceration has been brought back under the interrogation lamp by the Kremlin's continuing vendetta against Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Like other oligarchs, Mr. Khodorkovsky took advantage in the 1990s of rushed privatizations and the weakness of president Boris Yeltsin to seize control of old Soviet facilities. The rationale for rapid privatization was that assets had to be got out of the hands of the Communists as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the inevitable unfairness of the process has been used as an excuse to reinstall not communism but its totalitarian cousin, fascism, under the iron fist of a former KGB supergoon, President Vladimir Putin.

Eighteen months ago, Mr. Khodorkovsky's oil company, Yukos, was stolen from under him after a show trial. Mr. K was in fact the model of what Russia needed to flourish. A talented businessman, he built Yukos into an outstanding example of both transparency and profitability. But he also promoted democracy and a more open society on the basis that these developments could do nothing but good for the Russian people. That was his biggest mistake.

Mr. Putin had a quite different vision of Russia: he wanted it to be feared again, and has succeeded, by reversing energy privatizations and threatening Russia's European natural gas customers, not to mention by arming some of the world' most dangerous whackos.

One key issue is whether anybody can expect a fair trial in Russia, since the justice system is so closely allied with the Kremlin. Mr. Khodorkovsky's lawyers point out that the persecution of their client is closely related to Mr. Putin's strategy of concentrating power in the hands of his cronies, and using the legal system to seize energy assets.

Mr. Khodorkovsky's first trial was a travesty. He is currently serving his time in a heavily contaminated area of Siberia, where he has been subjected to solitary confinement for offences such as: possessing unauthorized printing material (a copy of the prison regulations); drinking tea in an unauthorized location, and the possession of two lemons, which had been given to him by his wife. On another occasion, he was shoved into solitary "for his own protection" after another inmate tried to gouge his eye out with a knife.

The U.S. State Department has professed profound concern about the implications of the Khodorkovsky case for the rule of law in Russia. Among others who have protested Mr. Khodorkovsky's treatment are German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, former Czech president Vaclev Havel, former Irish president Mary Robinson, former Polish president Lech Walesa and Amnesty International. Where are Canada's protests?

Anybody who imagined that Mr. Khodorkovsky's case didn't send out a wider warning for business has been disabused by the Kremlin's recent pressure on international oil giants Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP over their Russian holdings.

Perhaps the most terrifying indication of the lawlessness of Mr. Putin's Russia is the number of murders, both inside and outside the country, that appear to be politically related. The most spectacular was the poisoning last year of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with polonium 210. Other cases include the executions of investigative journalist Anna Politskaya and crusading Bank of Russia official Andrei Kozlov. It would be easier to believe in the Kremlin's innocence if it expressed more interest in solving these cases. Instead, in the Litvinenko affair for example, the Kremlin is being obstructive. One of the reasons for failing to co-operate with British authorities may be that Britain has offered refuge to other former executives of Yukos.

Why should we care about Mr. Khodorkovsky? Because his persecution is a straw in a very dangerous wind. As Mr. Khodorkovsy's defence team point out, "The weak responses to Russia's backsliding have been a shocking surrender to sinister forces within the Russian leadership, and an overt signal to them that their belligerent authoritarianism will be tolerated -- in exchange for preferential treatment in energy relations."

Mr. Putin said before Mr. Khodorkovsky's trial and imprisonment that Russia would not allow businessmen to influence political life. He suggested that anybody who disagreed should look to the example of others who had tried and failed. "Some are gone forever," he said, "and others are far away." Perhaps the wonder is that Mr. Khodorkovsky is still only "far away" rather than "gone forever." All civilized people should press for his release.

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