Khodorkovsky in La-La Land
The bizarre and ever more “Russian” story of jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky took yet another strange turn last week.
It turned out that for months Khodorkovsky had been communicating with Russian novelist Grigory Chkhartishvili (a/k/a Boris Akunin) for an interview in the Russian version of Esquire magazine (published by the same parent as the Moscow Times). No sooner had the interview appeared on its pages (but not its website, the Russian version being available on the web only on Khodorkovsky’s site) than the Kremlin chucked Khodorkovsky into solitary confinement for two weeks for participating in it. Though the details are quite murky, it appears that the Kremlin claims Khodorkovsky sent letters to Chkhartishvili that it wasn’t allowed to censor first. This alleged disciplinary violation could be used to deny Khodorkovsky parole the next time he comes up for it, although that’s a moot point because he’s facing a new round of charges that could independently keep him in prison for the rest of his life. Khodorkovsky’s lawyer Robert Amsterdam has published a complete English translation of the article on his blog.
Chkhartishvili starts out by asking Khodorkovsky why he speaks out so rarely in the press. An excellent question, especially as it concerns those who faithfully served him and were likewise persecuted, such as Svetlana Bakhmina for instance! Khodorkovsky responds: “For a real dialogue is needed an interlocutor who understands and is interested. They just ‘don’t make that kind’ of journalist in Russia. Why? Maybe the publishers don’t want it, maybe self-censorship.” But how can Khodorkovsky possibly imagine it will lead to him being taken more seriously to give an interview to a pop novelist to be published in a foreigner-supported men’s glossy with little circulation or reputation in Russia? Perhaps Chkhartishvili’s closing comment sheds some light: “In our country there is got no small number of writers and cultural figures who want to support you and for whom it is important to know what you think. I am confident that they will continue this dialogue and will maintain it until all of us – civil society – have attained your release. Endurance to you and health.” Apparently, then, he’s in the tank for Khodorkovsky. So apparently the oligarch has no problem with shill journalists, just as long as they are his shill journalists.
Meanwhile, it seems that the whole charade was part and parcel of Khodorkovsky’s ongoing effort to curry favor with the Kremlin.
As Jonas Bernstein noted on the Eurasia Daily Monitor:
Khodorkovsky put some distance between himself and the opposition liberalism represented by former SPS leader Nikita Belykh and others. Khodorkovsky said in the interview, that he is not “especially liberal” in the meaning usually given to the term. “I am a supporter of a strong state in Russia, and I have a number of arguments,” he said. “I am a supporter of an active industrial policy, [of] a social state. In general, the Scandinavian model. Russia is an enormous country with difficult climatic conditions, with very difficult geopolitical surroundings. A weak state simply will not be capable of dealing with all of the extreme situations. As to the significance of climatic conditions: the United States has a more liberal economy than Canada where nature is much more severe.”
“I absolutely do not agree with the appeals to liberal democratic society not to cooperate with the authorities,” he said. “That is the path of the weak. The path of the strong is to stand up in all places for democratic values [and] human rights, to fight corruption defined by the euphemism ‘administrative resources’ and not yield to temptation. Let the government, while it is the government, itself choose with whom it will work, knowing that we will bring into power not only our knowledge, but our ideals.”
These are the same types of statements Khodorkovsky would go on to make before his parole board, adding that Russia was right to attack Georgia. Whether his goal was to actually win parole, or simply to convince the Kremlin to drop the second round of charges and let him out of prison three years from now when his first sentence runs out, it’s clear that Khodorkovsky has either changed his spots or never really was one of us from the beginning. There’s no way his statements can be viewed as anything other than a stark betrayal of all those who believed in his cause and labored to demand justice.
No intelligent person can claim that Khodorkovsky is innocent of all criminal charges, and we’ve certainly never said so. But it is an equally undeniable fact that Khodorkovsky is guilty of nothing that every other wealthy person in Russia isn’t also guilty of, and that the “trial” Khodorkovsky received was a neo-Soviet sham that resulted almost instantly after he stood up to Vladimir Putin. Assuming Khodorkovsky was going to stand up against the Kremlin juggernaut, his selective prosecution and rigged incarceration were more than enough reason to support him vigorously. But if we are to believe what he is saying now, as we must, we must conclude that Khodorkovsky never had any intention of standing up for any values other than his own personal interests.
That doesn’t mean the way the Kremlin has treated him is anything remotely like justice. But it does mean that Khodorkovsky is no more entitled to our support than any other unjustly prosecuted person in Vladmir Putin’s Russia, and there are tens of thousands of them. By his own words he’s no longer a proper symbol of Putin’s barbaric injustice.
And he’s got his just desserts. Despite selling out to the Kremlin, he’s not only been denied parole but now has been thrown into solitary confinement for doing so. It’s the worst of all possible worlds, and a lesson to anyone who would break bread with Vladimir Putin’s KGB regime: This is what happens when you try to make peace with dictatorships, as Neville Chamberlain found out only too well.