Russian ex-oil tycoon, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was incarcerated in Russia for a decade before he was amnestied by Vladimir Putin in December, was in Kiev’s Maidan Square recently, giving aid and comfort to the new government with two rather dubious pronouncements.
First, he backed the Kiev government’s version of snipergate–that Russia was behind it.
Second, he tried to innoculate the new government against the bad/anxious press engendered by its high profile embrace of fascists, neo-Nazis, and ultranationalists.
Khodorkovsky claimed that force was used against the protesters “with the agreement of the Russian authorities.”
The former tycoon – who spent 10 years in jail for tax evasion, embezzlement, and money laundering and left for Europe upon release in December – also dismissed allegations that neo-Nazi groups have been taking an active part in protests, calling the accusations “Russian propaganda.”
“There are no fascists or Nazis here,” Khodorkovsky claimed.
Mission unaccomplished, in my admittedly personal opinion.
The important thing about Mkhail Khodorkovsky is that he is America’s man in Russia. If there is a pro-Western political upheaval in Russia and Putin finally falls on his ass, Khodorkovsky will probably be at the center of the new power structure.
Khodorkovsky gets sympathetic press in the West, for his stoicism in prison and his pronouncements in favor of Western values. I also expect that he gets good press because he spread his money around generously and wisely to tend his political garden in the United States, and because he is a key American asset en ovo for New Russia.
After his release, Khodorkovsky has safely re-established himself and whatever wealth he managed to shield from Putin in Switzerland. Despite protestations he would abstain from Russian politics, consider the Maidan speech his coming out party.
The Globe & Mail was there and delivered the requisite fluffing, highlighting Khodorkovsky’s “simple dark anorak and jeans” and quoted him as saying, “I’ve seen the plywood planks they used to stand up to the bullets. It made me want to cry, it’s so awful,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion.
The ever-reliable AP is pitching in as well:
“Ukraine must become a European state,” the former tycoon told the students. For that to happen, Khodorkovsky said there must be foreign investment, eradication of corruption and a modern-day Marshall Plan of international assistance.
He also called for establishing a congress of Ukrainian and Russian intellectuals to boost ties.
On Sunday, Khodorkovsky almost wept as he assured a large crowd in Kiev’s center not to believe that all Russians support their government’s actions in Crimea.
Bloomberg would also like a word:
“Legal states exist only where and when there is a separation of powers, an independent judiciary and real changes in power as a result of elections,” Khodorkovsky said. “It’s completely clear that there’s nothing of the sort in Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych or in Russia under Vladimir Putin.”
“Khodorkovsky is a galvanizing person for everyone who holds a grudge against Vladimir Putin,” Erixon said. “His fight against the Kremlin from inside prison and before is something that all those fighting Putin can look to as an example.”
Following his release from prison, Khodorkovsky said he is not interested in politics and will devote himself to helping Russia develop civil society. Khodorkovsky plans to apply for permanent residency in Switzerland, Agence France-Presse reported today.
“Prior to being locked up, I was obsessed with business,” Khodorkovsky said. “But there’s something more important. And that something is what I myself am searching for. And i think that something was found by the people who went out onto Maidan, and by the people who stood under the bullets.”
Reuters also delivered a brief report titled
Russia complicit in violence against Kiev protesters- Khodorkovsky
Yeah, Khodorkovsky is back.
To my mind, Khodorkovsky’s re-emergence and this eagerly-reported barrage of criticism against Putin and Russia represents another escalation by the United States. Whether the Obama administration simply wants to vent its spleen and gain some propaganda points inside and outside Russia by vilifying Putin, or whether President Obama wants Putin’s scalp on his belt and is going to try and foment an existential crisis out of the Ukraine mess, remains to be seen.
In my previous career blogging at Halcyon Days, where I singlehandedly saved the United States from the folly of the Iraq War (just kidding!), I wrote a piece about Khodorkovsky on the occasion of his initial arrest. Since I believe Khodorkovsky will be a part of whatever mischief the US has planned for Vladimir Putin, the observations I made in 2003 are still valid and I think it’s worth reposting.
America’s Secret Stake in the Yukos Affair
November 5, 2003
Who is Mikhail Khodorkovsky?
Russia’s richest man, principal owner of Russia’s biggest oil company, Yukos, currently under arrest by Putin for some obscure financial hanky panky.
At first I didn’t. I thought of Khodorkovsky merely as a distant figure rich in oil, consonants, and syllables.
I was wrong.
A lot of people in America care deeply about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and I should, too.
The State Department cares. On October 30, in the State Department briefing, a spokesman expressed concern that this was a case of “selective prosecution” targeting Khodorkovsky, who has bankrolled some of Putin’s opponents.
One would think that the State Department, given the Padilla case, the perpetual detentions in Guantanamo, and the string of US concentration camps across Iraq packed with people with bags over their heads denied due process, access to lawyers, and even basic human needs, should not be pitching rocks out of its glass house at a friendly sovereign state and ally in the war on terror conducting a criminal investigation of one of its own citizens.
It is of course possible that the Bush administration is bound by a sacred oath to come to the aid of any member of the international petroleum brotherhood in need.
I can imagine the scene in the Oval Office. Condi Rice rushes in and gasps: “Mr. President. An oil executive is in peril!”. Our George rises resolutely from his desk, smacks his fist decisively into his palm, and declares, “Something must be done! Get me the State Department!”.
But other people care, too.
Readers of the International Herald Tribune’s op-ed page were treated to an impassioned stemwinder depicting the Yukos case as a titanic confrontation between Soviet-era dinosaurs and the gallant entrepeneurial crusaders for capitalism in New Russia. (see Russia’s future and the fate of an oligarch, Leon Aron, IHT 11/1-2/03).
The article does contain some interesting nuggets like the factoid that Yukos gave $45 million to charity in 2002.
Faith in the disinterested generosity of oil executives with their stockholders’ money being what it is, it is not surprising that the shenanigans of another energy giant–Enron–come to mind. Ken Lay’s binge of influence buying included a multitude of charitable contributions–not just to charities, but to deserving politicians as well.
Sure enough, the game is given away in the last paragraphs, where the author tries to wish away Khodorkovsky’s legal problems with a plea for “…establishment of a statute of limitations on charges arising from the privatizations of the 1990’s” and “New laws on lobbying, campaign finance and charitable contributions [that] will permit Russian business to advance openly its interests in Russian politics”.
Translation: Yukos’ path to wealth and power was apparently paved with dirty rubles. The corporation is now caught inextricably in the net of Russian laws, and Putin has Khodorkovsky by the balls.
The author of this piece, Leon Aron, is the director of Russian studies at neocon ground zero, the American Enterprise Institute.
So we know that the neocons care, and not just in a generic “no billionaire left behind” way about Khodorkovsky’s fate. They care enough to try and lobby for the right wing and the US government to inject themselves in a murky criminal case in a foreign country.
Richard Perle cares. He weighed in with one of his hair-tearing tirades, declaring, “If the G-8 [the private club for the world’s richest and most powerful countries] has any standards at all, Russia would no longer qualify”(Russian Events Leave White House Wary Maura Reynolds, LA Times, Nov. 1, 2003).
Although the comparison probably doesn’t do the two men justice, the neocons probably saw Khodorkovsky as a Russian Berlusconi: a pro-American, right wing fixer who would throw his immense financial weight into politics to cripple and confound America’s enemies in the Russian Republic.
But there was probably a darker, more dangerous game at work. One that provoked Putin, the most astute and decisive leaders in world politics, to send security forces storming onto Khodorkovsky’s private jet.
Khodorkovsky is not just an oil magnate. He is an oil magnate in Russia, the only great power in the world not dependent on imported oil.
In fact, Russia is awash in surplus oil and will soon decide whether to export 25 million tons per year of it to Japan–or to China.
Control of oil is the linchpin of the neocon geopolitical strategy. We are in Iraq to control its oil, and to be able to deny China and any other competing power dependent on that region access to that oil.
How can we counter Russia’s strategic superiority in oil resources? How do we prevent the geopolitical balance in Europe and Asia from tipping toward Russia and its precious crude?
The answer to the Russian threat is to take the oil industry out of the hands of the government–just as we are preparing to do in Iraq.
Take away the oil. Privatize it, internationalize it, and neutralize it.
And what better way to do that than back the fortunes of a oil billionaire eager to protect and promote his wealth, power, and interests through a challenge to the political supremacy of Putin?
In September of this year, Khodorkovsky was about to conclude a merger that would sell 25% of Yukos to ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco for $22 billion. As the Guardian reported, “…a deal with a US company would give Mr Khodorkovsky US political leverage as well as access to more western cash.” (Yukos looks overseas, Guardian Sept. 29, 2003).
We need explore or ponder no further.
Think of it. An independent oil empire in Siberia, financed with US cash, controlling Russia’s oil surplus and exports, hostile to the Russian state, aggressive in domestic politics to the point of subversion, and backed by the Bush administration.
Khodorkovsky was our Trojan horse.
So Putin has taken Khodorkovsky down. It is another big loss for the neocons and their vision of sustained, unilateral US dominance.
It is also a huge defeat for Bush, as is shown by the disproportionate dismay voiced at this criminal case in faraway Russia.
Not only because Putin has sent our overworked and underqualified NSA drudge Condi Rice back to her Soviet polysci textbooks to try to come up with a strategy to deal with a resurgent, self-sufficient new Russian empire.
Because Putin decided that Bush was now a sufficiently marginalized international factor that the consequences of US dismay and displeasure could be comfortably and confidently ignored.
So chalk up that Yukos affair, together with the UN debacle, the failure of the Madrid donor’s conference, and our long, lonely walk with Iraq into bloody oblivion as another victim of Bush’s mismanagement of our nation’s affairs and interests.
Who cares about Mikhail Khodorkovsky?
I guess we all should.
copyright 2003 Peter Lee