Posts Tagged ‘Yukos


Enough with this fable of the wolf and the lamb!

Stereotypes die hard. In the western world, human rights defenders and the self-righteous are shocked by the fate that awaits Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The businessman, it appears, is the expiatory victim of a legal system kept under the thumb of Vladimir Putin. Simplistic historical narratives reassure. They place everyone in a box. The good on one side, the villain on the other… But truth, the truth, needs courage, clarity and intellectual honesty.

For ten years now, we have been led to believe that the man who finds himself behind bars today is an honest trader fleeced of his money by a mafia state. Yet, the exact opposite is true: Mikhail Khodorkovsky built a financial empire by stripping the carcass of the former Soviet empire.

Vladimir Putin did not settle a personal score by throwing the law at Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Instead, he embodied the rise of Russian nationalist fervour. A legitimate nationalist fervour, one is tempted to write. Need one remind that, in 1995, Mikhail Khodorkovsky bought for only USD 300 million the oil company Yukos whose real value was estimated shortly after at USD 30 billion? What country could accept to be robbed and show no reaction?

Today some people still believe that the lawsuits launched against Mikhail Khodorkovsky are the result of a manoeuvre orchestrated by the Russian government to break an oligarch who became too independent. They forget that at the time of his splendour, the all-powerful boss of Yukos did not stand for anyone getting in his way, anyone who might have possibly hampered his ambitions. Journalists in his pay praised his success, and turned him into the symbol of a generation. A new Russian capitalism, audacious, ambitious, triumphant… But the glossy front pages hid a far less salubrious reality. The success of Mikhail Khodorkovsky was built upon a gigantic system of corruption rooted in the heart of the state apparatus.

Backstage, the businessman resorted to sometimes underhand and ruthless methods to achieve his ambitions. The rise of the oligarch was sprinkled with numerous assassinations. The former head of Yukos’ security department, Alexei Pichugin, a trusted man of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was sentenced to life in prison for having organised several murders, notably the murder of Nefteyugansk’s mayor, Vladimir Petukhov, and of the businesswoman Valentina Korneeva. The facts were established in the course of a trial that had nothing Stalinist about it. It is by neglecting this sort of details that one ends up distorting the truth and convincing the world that it is not a wolf that is in a cage, but a lamb.


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?