An Open Letter to Robert Amsterdam

Dear Bob,

It’s becoming clearer to me with every passing day that, where you are concerned, it really is possible to judge a book by its cover.  It seems that you are exactly what you appear to be — just a lawyer representing a client whose mission is to free that client (jailed oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky) from prison by any legal means possible, regardless of the collateral damage.  That’s a disappointing conclusion for me to reach as one who played a key role in bringing your blog to prominence several years ago, and one who would have liked to think we shared a common mission.  Your client has very clearly said that if only the Kremlin will let him out of prison, he’ll suddenly have no problem with its barbaric anti-democratic crackdown and may even help facilitate it.  I can’t help wondering, and worrying, whether the same is true of you as well.

I’m motivated to write by your recent statement: “I am very grateful for the support of IHT editor Serge Schmemann for the terrible and unjust plight of my client, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.” In connection with that statement, you republish a recent op-ed by Schmemann in the International Herald Tribune (and the New York Times). 

I’m sorry to have to say so, Bob, but this is one of the most repugnant single sentences about Russia I’ve yet to see in print — and believe me, that’s saying quite a lot.  If you really believe Schmemann is on the side of democracy where Russia is concerned, you’ve as much as declared that your Russia blog is now obsolete as far as anyone who believes in democracy is concerned.

La Russophobe has repeatedly documented the fact that Mr. Schmemann is a shamelessly dishonest Russophile liar.  Far from “supporting” your client, the purpose of Schmemann’s op-ed in the IHT is perfectly clear:  He realizes that the Putin regime is in desperate trouble and, like communist dictator Mikhail Gorbachev, he is urging the regime to pull back from the brink of oblivion and reconstitute itself, so that it does not go the way of the USSR.  In other words, he’s urging the Kremlin to use Khodorkovsky as a political pawn by which to defuse the tidal wave of opposition rising against the Putin regime across the globe.

Schmemann is a liar and a bag of filth, but he’s no fool.  He has seen (as we have documented on La Russophobe) the catastrophic failure on every level of the Putin regime, best symbolized by the breathtaking drop in the value of the Russian stock market.  He understands, even if Putin doesn’t, that Putin simply cannot afford to hand red-flag issues to his opponents such as the continued persecution of Khodorkovksy, a broken man who is begging for mercy, and his pregnant attorney Svetlana Bakhmina (sad that Amsterdam didn’t care to point out that Schmemann failed to even mention her in his op-ed –apparently Khodorkovsky’s underlings can go under the bus, if they must, when the big man’s neck is on the line).

So Schmemann is urging Putin to remove that issue from the table and focus on more pressing ways to save his government from total disaster.  It’s exactly what the rat bastard Gorbachev did — those who think Gorbie was a “liberal” are simply deluded.  Gorbachev was simply intelligent and courageous enough to realize that the Soviet dictatorship would destroy itself if it didn’t reform, so he tried to reform. But he goal was the maintenance of the Soviet dictatorship by the best means possible, not democracy or capitalism.  Even now, Gorbachev is forming a new political party with the same goal in mind.

I have to wonder, Bob, whether you even read what Schmemann wrote.  He states that Khodorkovsky “didn’t get fabulously rich by always obeying the law.”  In other words, he’s guilty as charged. He refers to the money Khodorkovsky made from his Yukos oil concern “obscene.” The he writes:

Putin’s Russia is not the Soviet Union by a long shot; Russians have inestimably more freedoms now than they did then (Khodorkovsky’s interview can be read freely in Russia). And Khodorkovsky is hardly a human-rights crusader of the mold of Sakharov, though in his last years at Yukos he moved the company toward high levels of transparency and accountability.

It’s a boldfaced lie that  “Khodorkovsky’s interview can be read freely in Russia.” It can’t. It has not bee made part of the magazine’s website and the hard-copy circulation of the magazine is miniscule.  The piece is available on Khodorkovsky’s website, but the Internet is under relelentless attack from the Kremlin and bloggers have been arrested for blogging.  It’s quite true that the interview can be read if you’re determined to do it, but lots of subversive writings could be read in Soviet times, too, under the “Samizdat” banner in basements by candlelight.

It’s a boldfaced lie, moreover, to suggest that there is much in Khodorkovsky’s interview that would upset the Kremlin. There isn’t.  It’s a plea for mercy of the same type that the billionaire made when he recently sought and was denied parole, not an open attack on the Putin regime.

It’s also fundamentally dishonest to claim that Russians have more freedoms now than they did in the USSR.  That’s beside the point! The point is that with every day that passes Russians have fewer and fewer freedoms, and that the Putin regime is the cause of that reality.  Attempting to make this point can have only one purpose:  To undercut movement against Putin to demand that the anti-democratic slide be halted.

Schmemann is quite right, however, when he writes that “Khodorkovsky is hardly a human-rights crusader.”  Again, it’s hard to believe you actually read this when you praised him.  Schmemann couldn’t care less about Khodorkovsky or about justice, he only cares about the fact that Khodorkovsky can be used as a weapon against the Kremlin he so adores and its march backward to Soviet-style government. Schmemmann writes:

But so long as Khodorkovsky is kept in a labor camp and denied parole for not sewing properly, he remains a powerful symbol of the lack of independence of Russia’s prosecutors and judges. And so long as they are not independent, Russia will be denied the effective judiciary it desperately needs to combat corruption, referee markets and otherwise serve to create and protect a civil society.

I’m not sure, Bob, whether Schmemann simply suckered you or whether you yourself simply don’t care about the terms of Khodorkovsky’s release, and rather only want him out by any means possible.  Either way, I have to question what role you have to play in the struggle against Putin’s anti-democratic policies.

Sincerely yours,

Kim Zigfeld

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