Archive for May, 2010


Robert Amsterdam: the man beneath Khodorkovsky’s propaganda

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, is in jail. Everybody agrees to say that his trial was far from being fair and no one knows if he’ll eventually be freed one day! Nonetheless, Khodorkovsky’s American lawyer (and PR guy) Robert Amsterdam has been building for years a biased image of Khodorkovsky. A biased image Western media widely buy…

Let’s get a few facts straight. Khodorkovsky has never been a democrat or even a “liberal” as he is often portrayed. He was a brutal businessman who built his fortune “stealing” USSR public companies. I don’t particularly blame him, all the so-called oligarchs did so. But Khodorkovsky did not get in trouble because he was a democrat, he got in trouble because he tried to mess with Putin’s authority. Robert Amstedam cheap propaganda may fool some journalists but can not totally erase reality .

The whole story is perfectly explained in an article (The fall of Khodorkovsky) from the Austrian magazine News which I have translated below:

The fall of Khodorkovsky

Through out of context quotations, unfaithful translations and other approximations, a certain image of Russia is being presented to western public opinion. Russia, the nasty authoritarian regime; the West, liberal and democratic.

Quite apart from the simplistic Manichaeism, the term “liberal” is not neutral in Russia but has a very pro-western connotation; it is disparaged because it is unpatriotic. At least since 1991, the start of the Yeltsin era, when Russia’s collective unconscious came to equate liberals and reformers with economic pillage, social chaos, the law of the jungle and oligarchic rule. That the most prominent of them all, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, should now be portrayed as a herald of democracy in the purported autocracy of the Putinian system is surprising to say the least!

What is more, this strange analysis is fortunately accompanied by much solicitude, the self-styled whistleblowers again explaining to the Russian people what is good for them. Save proof to the contrary, exporting a model has never worked so far.

Canadian lawyer Robert Amsterdam, whose network and capacity to finance intensive lobbying activities has brought him a measure of media exposure, is just one example of a professional lecturer. Using the remains of the Yukos empire to mobilise connections and finance think tanks, and turning rhetoric into a (very) lucrative business, is hardly honourable.

Raising public opinion to the status of judge and lecturing official judges is an original (and so far relatively unsuccessful) line of defence.

What would Robert Amsterdam have to say about the Enron affair, or the fate of Madoff and his Texan alter ego (Allen Stanford)? That their downfall was purely political, that the USA is an authoritarian regime? Unless the judges were simply doing their job, and the years those barons of finance will be spending behind bars for fraud were well-deserved.

Similarly, as soon as he came to power, Putin decided to make it clear that the anarchy and the looting of public assets were over. So he spelt out the rules of law to a well-known oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, revoking his licence to steal and bringing him, the wealthiest man in Russia, before the judges in court. The message was clear: Russian businessmen now conduct their business legally, and Russia is eligible to join the WTO (World Trade Organisation).

Why then set Khodorkovsky up as a victim?


Ukraine says no to gigantic gas merger

Vladimir Putin celebrated last March the election of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine president. Party time’s now over! The face of Ukraine has changed but the core problem between Ukraine and Russia remains : gas! Viktor Yanukovych just said no to Putin proposal to merge Russian giant Gazprom with its ukrainian counterpart Naftogas. It’s getting complicated!

Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych put a pin in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “impromptu” trial balloon to merge Russia‘s gas monopolist Gazprom and its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz and again burnished his pro-EU foreign policy stance, saying any merger would have to be done with concerted talks with the EU.

“If we decide to begin talks [about the merger] we should include the EU at a certain stage as the main consumer of gas and the main partner,” Yanukovych said reports The Moscow Times.

Yanukovych has been widely tarred with the accusation that he is “pro-Moscow”, however, his actions during his first months on the job suggest exactly the opposite.

However, reading too much into Yanukovych’s comments is dangerous as domestic politics also play a big part in this issue as Naftogaz is seen as a national treasure (rightly so) and the president cannot be seen to give away the company to Russia without doing lethal damage to his standing at home – especially in the east of the country.

Yanukovych made his first public comments on the merger since Putin floated the idea during meetings with Ukrainian officials last week. Moscow will certainly be disappointed as the point of the deal was to cut the EU out of any involvement in the gas transport over Ukraine’s territory.

“The most important thing for Ukrainian national interests is that its gas-transportation system is reliable,” Yanukovych said.

A subsidiary deal to the $40bn discount Russia has handed Kyiv is a badly needed project to upgrade the aging pipeline network. Kyiv has been in both Brussels and Moscow to look for help with paying for new pipes, but it has also made it clear that it would rather do the work together with both Russia and the EU rather than favouring one over the other.

The upgrade would mean an extra 200 billion cubic meters of Russian gas could be sold to Europe per year within five years, up from 120 billion cubic meters now, the president said.

The politics of the upgrade are also complicated by Russia’s plan to build a new pipeline called South Stream that would deliver gas to southern Europe and by pass Ukraine completely. However, analysts have questioned the economic viability of this project and an expansion of the Ukrainian pipeline network would he a far cheaper option and further undermine the viability of South Stream. Where the gas would come from to fill South Stream is another unresolved question hanging over the project.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week that the deal would most likely take the form of an equity swap between the two firms. Gazprom may use about 5 percent of its own shares to acquire Naftogaz, Kommersant reported Tuesday, citing Peskov.

Analysts have pointed out this is unlikely as it would reduce the state’s stake in Gazprom to below 50pc – something banned in Russian law. Other analysts have suggested that if the deal goes ahead a joint venture of some sort is much more likely.

Naftogaz said Wednesday that it paid more than $419 million for April gas imports from Russia, which included a discount of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters of fuel.

Still, the deal is not a right off. Putin knew this deal was going to be hard to negotiate and even harder for Yanukovych to sell at home. But if it happens it would at a stroke end the fears over energy security for western Europe as well as giving the cash-strapped Ukraine access to more money that the gas sales generate. So it is very tempting.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was cautiously positive in statements on Wednesday, obviously suggesting that Moscow should supply more details.

“The proposal merits attention. We’ll naturally examine it because it was made by the prime minister of a very large state, our neighbour, out of good intentions,” Azarov said.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the energy ministers of Russia and Ukraine would meet in Moscow with the management of Gazprom and Naftogaz after the May holidays (after May 10) to discuss the details of a possible merger.


Ukrainian Parliament turned into a Fight Club

For those of you who have not seen the images on TV, a great moment of Ukrainian democracy… A steamy debate with smoke grenades. No comment!