Another Original LR Translation: Latynina on Khodorkovsky

What a biography they invented for him!

On the fifth anniversary of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest

by Yuliya Latynina

Novaya Gazeta 27.10.08

Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel

Do you remember what you were doing on the day they arrested Khodorkovsky? I certainly do. I was sitting and writing a piece about the Tuzla Peninsula when I got a phone call and the poor peninsula immediately and irrevocably ceased to exist.

It’s not that often that we remember precisely what we were doing on some particular day five years ago. In my case I remember it because I went to sleep in one country and woke up in another.

This has happened to us several times since then. We woke up in a different country after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. After Litvinenko’s poisoning. After Beslan and the abolition of the election of governors. After the Russo-Georgian War. But the first time this happened to us was when Khodorkovsky was arrested.

Before Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Russia’s development was moving towards open society. I don’t mean that there were no clouds in the sky. Russia had governors for sale and crooked cops and oligarchs who waged war against each other with the help of the buyable governors. But Russia-2002 was moving, like Russia-1913 had once, in the direction of an open society.

And Khodorkovsky was the symbol of this. An oligarch who had decided to give up collecting assets (he had collected plenty) and started instead to increase the value of those he had. What increases the value of assets is greater transparency in the companies that hold them and a more open society. Because you don’t get companies worth a lot in countries where people’s lives cost nothing. Now that Russia’s investment bubble has burst and we have seen how in a country where its prime-minister “sends a doctor to Mechel” and tanks to Georgia, the worth of a company promptly plummets to near zero, the issue is obvious even to foreign investors who were so incautious as to invest money in Russia even after Khodorkovsky’s arrest.

Khodorkovsky, however, realised this five years ago. You can’t have flourishing companies without an open society. It was because he understood this – and therefore wanted to make society more open – that he came into conflict with the model of power that president Putin represents.

When Khodorkovsky was imprisoned, we were told that he had robbed the state. We were told that he had avoided taxes, selling oil via offshore companies in order for the profits to be made in one place while production went on in another. And now we see the former YUKOS’ oil being sold by Gunvor, a Swiss-registered company belonging to long-time Putin friend Gennady Timchenko, making $70 billion a year. The fact that Gunvor is earning money in this way ends all and any arguments as to why Khodorkovsky is in jail.

Before Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Russia was moving in one direction; after it – in another. Corruption levels have risen while freedoms have contracted. Corruption has become the modus operandi of the state. Only one person has become free – internally. That is Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The people surrounding president Putin were not taught how to manage businesses. The people around president Putin were not taught how to run a country. They were, however, taught how to annihilate enemies. And in the absence of enemies, they get invented. Especially if the people protecting the president from enemies can take over those enemies’ property in the process of annihilating them.

There are two kinds of people when it comes to money and power. Some become better from having them. They start to think on a different scale. Khodorkovsky is like that. Some are made worse by money and power. Those who had him imprisoned belong to that group.

“What a biography they invented for him!” Akhmatova exclaimed this about Brodsky.

Khodorkovsky sits in jail and corresponds with Akunin. In a previous age, Odoevsky was in jail out there and corresponded with Pushkin. Khodorkovsky is in fact very much like the Decembrists. They were aristocrats and wanted something strange; Khodorkovsky’s an oligarch and wants something strange too.

Of course, the authorities today do not much resemble the Tsarist ones. General Liparsky, Governor of Chita under the Tsars, read every book that was sent to the Decembrists. Can you picture the bossman of the Krasnokamensk Labour Camp reading Karl Popper?

10 responses to “Another Original LR Translation: Latynina on Khodorkovsky

  1. Thanks very much for posting this translation. There are few better columnists than Yulia.

    It’s interesting that she highlights the Gunvor-Putin connection as the critical axis behind this case. I wonder if that would be the case if there hadn’t been such overwhelming acquiescence from U.S. and British banks – as proved by the Barclays approach to Russia.

    It appears that just about everybody, from Berlin to Rome to London to New York, was perfectly happy with the consolidation of dictatorship in Russia so long as they could make a buck off of it.

  2. Wow, what a powerfully succinct summary of where Putin’s Russia is today. Sadly, only a handful there will be exposed to her article.

    James, Bush was a naive fool in his understanding of Putin, a bigger irony is that Rice was an alleged Russian expert, but, the typical grovelling appeasing Europeans have more blood on their hands in facilitating Putin.

    The bottom line over and above that is that Russians are responsible for their own fate. Like the fate of Iraqis once the autocratic tyranny of the old guard was swept away democracy is theirs to lose. If Russians haven’t figured out Putin by now they deserve him. Tough words, but, true.

  3. I think initially Bush was naive about Putin, but later his hands were tied because of the complains about U.S. unilateralism and of course the Iraq war was his main focus, unfortunately.
    Agree with Penny, the appeasing Europeans are going to be a big obstacle in implementing a coordinated and tough policy towards Russia. Maybe the eastern Europeans will drag them along kicking and screaming, hopefully before it’s to late.

  4. see, this is where I think I agree with La Russophobe the most: the greatest danger to democracy are not the extremists, it’s the “silent and complacent majority”.

    I may not agree with the politics of, say Germany, when it comes to Russia. In fact, I might be screamingly agains all of it BUT I can respect it. Because you know what? They come out and say “we want to be on good terms with Russia because of this this and this”. It’s the wishy-washy West-western European countries that I despise. countries that feel like it’s not their problem. Countries that want to be “neutral”, whatever that means. The conflict is far away from them in a geographical sense so they bury their heads in sand and do nothing. And when nothing is said, it is usually taken as agreement.

    But there is a new coalition forming within the EU – the Eastern Front, so to speak, led by Poland. Before the latest EU summit (called together to discuss the credit crisis) Poland assembled a mini-meeting of the Eastern European countries to come to an agreement beforehand on what they want as a group economically and (foreign)politically speaking.

    Because, my dear ostriches in Ireland, Spain, Monaco and Portugal, the way the world works is this: you want something, someone else wants something too. If your want coincide, good, you can work together. If they don’t, you either fight it out or come to compromise. But first, you have to figure out what it is that you want. From the situation in Russia, in this case. Burying your heads in the sand and hoping that if you don’t see the predator then perhaps it’ll give in and go away doesn’t work.

    Germany is trying to tame it while the eastern europeans are trying to shoot it. They might not agree on the way to deal with the problem but at least they acknowlege that there IS a problem and they’re doing something about it.

  5. Y.Latinina!

    Russia has to be proud of you.

    You are JUST doing your job, but in your country there are only 5-6 honest journalists. It’s a tough choice, but you can be proud, you are a professional and honest person, even when I disagree with you.

  6. P.S.

    I think I overesitmated 5-6… I think sadly only about 2-3… actually.

  7. What is “open society” and why must Russia “move in its direction” at any cost?


    She didn’t say it should move in that direction at any cost. Please stop lying.

    “Open society” is the opposite of the “closed society” that erased the USSR from the face of the earth. Russia needs to move in that direction so as to avoid the USSR’s fate, you nitwit.

  8. Tower Bolshevik

    For James:

    “It appears that just about everybody, from Berlin to Rome to London to New York, was perfectly happy with the consolidation of dictatorship in Russia so long as they could make a buck off of it.”

    If this is what is occuring in Russia, it should come to no surprise to anyone. Indonesia, Brazil, Guatemala, Chile, Panama, Iraq, Iran, and many others the USA installed right-wing military dictatorships, because the democratically-elected lefit-wing leaders threatened their business with the USA and the West. The USA is perfectly happy with any regime (democratically elected or dictatorship), just as long as they can make a buck off of it. Its always been like this.

  9. TB, in many of the countries that you name, the leader was a dictator, before american intervention. If you want dictatorships to end, we need to stop the support for them(Russia).

    If an invasion of Russia is the only thing that will sooth your hatred of america, than I hope it comes sooner rather than later.

  10. TB, America cannot force people in any country to vote for the benevolent liberationist. As long as they are voting, they get what they ask for.

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