Log in

Oct. 19th, 2009

beach sofa


Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Will Khodorkovsky Be Released From Prison? (Russia Profile)

June 6, 2008
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov
Russia Profile


Contributors: Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger, Andrei Liakhov, Sergey Shishkarev
In an interview with the French daily Le Monde last week, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin indicated that former YUKOS owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky could be amnestied and released from prison if President Dmitry Medvedev found that the law allows for his release.
This is the second time following the presidential election that Putin publicly deferred to Medvedev to make a decision on Khodorkovsky’s fate. Last March, at a joint press-conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin responded to a question about Khodorkovsky by saying that were the latter to plead for amnesty, the new Russian president would be free to make a decision, provided that it complies with the law.
This time around, Putin again emphasized that the decision would be solely up to Medvedev to make, and that Khodorkovsky’s prison conditions could be improved in the meantime, if the legal procedures for this are strictly followed.
We have also learned that Germany has been actively lobbying for Khodorkovsky’s release on humanitarian grounds, or for his transfer from a prison in Chita to a correctional facility in Moscow. During his last visit to Moscow in May, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier privately met with Khodorkovsky’s lawyer to discuss possible ways of improving Khodorkovsky’s detention conditions, and his transfer to Moscow.
Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev are serving an eight-year-long sentence for tax evasion and financial fraud. In December 2006, they were charged with laundering $7.5 billion, and are currently awaiting a new trial that could potentially land them in jail for another 10 to 15 years.    
Is the Kremlin seriously considering Khodorkovsky’s release? And if so, why now? Is it due to Western pressure, or is it because of internal Russian dynamics? How would this action be perceived in the West and at home? Would it serve to improve Russia’s image and Medvedev’s international standing? How would this affect foreign investors’ attitude? What would Khodorkovsky’s release mean for the rule of law in Russia? How would this affect future political developments in Russia?

Andrei Liakhov, Doctor of Law, Professor, London:
No way! Putin was answering a very specific question of “whose decision it is to release.” By the Constitution, it is exclusively within the president’s power to grant a pardon, and that was the correct answer. However, it says nothing about whether such a move is contemplated.   

Sergey Shishkarev, Chairman, Committee on Transport, the Russian State Duma (United Russia), Moscow:
I think president Medvedev has just answered this question in Berlin, when he said that a presidential pardon is feasible, were the internal Russian legal requirements fulfilled.
Of note, however, is Medvedev’s warning against making Khodorkovsky’s eventual release a matter of international bargaining. Medvedev signaled that attempts by Western powers to mediate on behalf of Khodorkovsky, or to put pressure on the Kremlin, would backfire and be treated by Russia as interference in internal affairs. We are no longer in a cold war, and Khodorkovsky is no Andrei Saharov.

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.:
For the purpose of disclosure, I feel that it is imperative for me to state explicitly that I have always regarded the prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovky as politically motivated. I have always regarded him as someone who took advantage of huge loopholes in the law with respect to transfer pricing and related party transactions – mechanisms used to date by individuals who control commercial entities involved in the extraction and sale of Russian natural resources (energy, lumber, metals, etc).

Since Khodorkovsky’s and his associates’ “crimes” could not have been committed “but for” the involvement of corrupt government officials, the fact that the latter have not been prosecuted further supports the theory that Khodorkovsky was imprisoned primarily for political reasons – the nature of his sentence supports the idea that there was an inadequate legal basis for bringing charges against him. Furthermore, Khodorkovsky was denied due process in numerous ways in the course of his “trial,” and it seems as if the judges of his demonstrative trial were subject to political pressure, rewarded or publicly acknowledged for their “performances.”

The RIA Novosti news agency report that last month, numerous human rights activists and public figures, including the head of Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseyeva, human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, the Russian Academy of Science member Yury Ryzhov, and president of “In Defense of Glasnost’” Alexei Simonov sent an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev noting that “[d]uring the election campaign, [he] repeatedly stressed the importance of the rule of law in Russia” and that “[p]olitically motivated criminal prosecutions, and politically motivated convictions, are clearly at odds with the principle of the rule of law.”

The group called upon president Medvedev to pardon numerous individuals, including physicist Valentin Danilov (accused of spying for Russia’s good friend China), foreign affairs analyst Igor Sutyagin, imprisoned for allegedly passing classified information to foreign countries, even though it appears that he did not have access to such information, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.

The President of the Russian Federation has the ability to pursue Article 89 of the Constitution, the power to “effectuate a pardon.” Russian prime minister Putin is either not familiar with the Russian Constitution, which is doubtful, or is sending a signal to the Western political and business leaders that he intends to pursue a policy of “good cop/bad cop.” Putin may not want to state explicitly that his policy for the state to control Russia’s national resources had achieved its purpose, but that a continuation of this policy may be counter-productive both politically and economically.

He can give his “blessing” to president Medvedev to elevate the rule of law in the country. If Western courts continue to apply concepts such as the “Act of State Doctrine” and the concept of “forum non conveniens” in pro forma ways, the billions of Russian dollars invested abroad or deposited in Western banks may be able to avoid any “retaliation.”

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

If Khodorkovsky is released, it is quite likely that he will be debarred from political activity.  And it will no doubt improve the foreign image of Russia and that of Medvedev personally. All this probably owes a considerable amount to Western pressure. But it signifies a change only if it is followed up with consistent reforms. 

We should not lose sight of the fact that while Khodorkovsky was no angel, his persecution was essentially politically motivated, and a decisive move towards the return of autocracy. Therefore, if he is pardoned or released, it would only have genuine or lasting political significance insofar as it leads to a genuine rule of law and to an end of “telephone justice.” There is yet no sign of any such reforms on the horizon, so one has to remain agnostic as to what this betokens for the future, if it does occur.
As for foreign investment, the situation is worse. Russia is presently squeezing out TNK-BP, making this the third time BP has been victimized in Russia, and one would have thought the company would have learned its lesson by now, but evidently it hasn’t. The new law on foreign investment is quite restrictive, so while stock market investment seems to be growing, foreign investors, especially in the many areas deemed by Moscow to be strategic sectors, should be more wary. In this context, Khodorkovsky is yesterday’s man, and today and tomorrow, autarchy and discrimination against foreign investment will triumph in Moscow.

beach sofa


Fuss over crime baron’s death triggers angry comments in world web. (from Itar Tass agency)


13. 10. 2009
By Itar-Tass World Service writer Lyudmila Alexandrova

MOSCOW, October 13 (Itar-Tass) - Russian crime baron Vyacheslav Ivankov has been buried at Moscow’s Vagankovo cemetery, one of the oldest within the city limits.

Many Russians have been placing angry comments in the Internet to express surprise or indignation over the fact that a ranking mobster will rest in peace next to the graves of those who deservedly constitute the pride and glory of the nation.

Bloggers have slammed as “Russia’s disgrace” the fuss over the death of Ivankov (also known by the nickname The Little Japanese), and his burial at a VIP cemetery in the center of Moscow.

The funeral took place amid tight security. No journalists were allowed to attend. According to some mass media, crime bosses from all over Russia, and also from other CIS countries, Europe and the United States gathered in Moscow to pay their last respects to Ivankov. As the Interior Ministry has said, no other mobster of such a high rank has been killed in Moscow or in Russia over the past fifteen years. Also present at the funeral ceremony, alongside relatives and friends, were members of the showbiz elite, with him the diseased mobster had been on friendly terms.

The assassination attempt on the life of 69-year-old Ivankov took place on July 28, 2009. He died in hospital on October 9. The investigators are proving into several versions of the crime. According to one, he lost his life to an attempt to meddle in an old-time conflict between two criminal clans. And by another version, the Little Japanese died as a result of his shadow activities in the construction materials manufacturing industry.

According to some mass media claims, the right-hand men of the Little Japanese have made their own inquiries already to have found the one responsible and even to pass a sentence.

In the world of organized crime and secret services Ivankov became a legend in his lifetime. He earned the reputation of one of the most authoritative leaders of the criminal world, with extensive contacts in artistic, political and big business circles back in the Soviet years to have retained it until just recently. He was well-known outside Russia, where the secret services of many countries, including the United States, regarded him as one of the top bosses of Russia’s organized crime. He spent more than 20 years in Russian and US jails.

According to police archives, Ivankov, born in 1940, has been a professional pickpocket since the age of 14. During his first detention in 1965 for a pocket theft Ivankov offered violent resistance to police, was examined by psychiatrists, diagnosed as schizophrenic and dispatched to a mental asylum for mandatory treatment only to have escaped from there.

The diagnosis has since allowed him to go unpunished for minor offences more than once. It was canceled in 1974. Ivankov’s successes in boxing helped him join the gang of racketeers under Gennady Korkov (the Mongol), who specialized in the robberies of and extortions from underground businessmen in the Soviet era. It was at about that time that the shape of his eyes earned him the nickname – the Little Japanese – which was a clear allusion to his predecessor – Mike the Little Jap – the notorious gangster in the port city of Odessa, Ukraine, during the years of the civil war at the beginning of last century.

In 1974 Ivankov recruited a gang of his own to focus on thefts and extortions. He boasted a fabulous gift of shirking punishment.

In 1981 Ivankov was eventually detained, convicted of armed robbery, illegal carrying of firearms and forgery of documents and sentenced to fourteen years behind bars. While he served the prison term, say media reports, Ivankov violated prison rules 58 times and was sent to the punishment cell on 35 occasions. In the late 1980s a campaign for his release began. Media say many celebrities, including actors, scientists and human rights activists volunteered to put in a word for him. In February 1991 the Supreme Court of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic eased Ivankov’s punishment and his release followed shortly afterwards.

In 1992 Ivankov left Russia to have settled in New York, where he began to arbiter disputes between mobsters and Russian businessmen. Local secret services suspected him of keeping an eye on many criminal businesses, including those in Russia, but not a single piece of evidence against him was available.

In 1995 the FBI detained Ivankov on the charges of extortion of 3.5 million dollars from two Russian businessmen – Alexander Volkov and Vladimir Voloshin – co-owners of Summit International. In January 1997 a US court found him guilty and sentenced him to nine years and seven months in prison for extortion and false marriage. In April 2000 the Little Japanese was charged in Russia in absentia with the 1992 murder of two Turkish businessmen in Moscow’s Fidan restaurant, and the United States was asked for his extradition. In July 2004 Ivankov left the US jail only to have been deported to Russia. In Moscow he was arrested as a suspect in the murder of two Turkish businessmen, but in July 2005 the jurors at the Moscow Regional Court declared him as not guilty and he was released again.

After the trial Vyacheslav Ivankov declared he had no intention of meddling in anything and promised he would dedicate himself entirely to the customary pastime of many Russian retirees – that of spending hours on a river bank with a fishing rod. For their part his lawyers said that while in jail Ivankov wrote a cycle of poems, fairy tales for children and an autobiographical piece entitled Against the Wind. Yet, police detectives suspect that he continued to act as an arbiter in conflicts between criminal groups from time to time.

The Russian segment of the world web is brimming with bloggers’ comments over the death and funeral of the Little Japanese.

Here are some of them.

“Why don’t they declare a day of national mourn? My idea is that of burying the Little Japanese in the Mausoleum (Vladimir Lenin’s tomb in Red Square). We shall be taking our kids there, so they have a chance to see in whose footsteps they should follow. (Oleg).

“What sort of country do we live in? It’s a nightmare!!! A mobster’s death makes the nation’s top news. That’s a shame for Russia. And what kind of respect from our neighbors can one expect after that? (Nikolai).

“He disgraced our country in the eyes of the civilized world, yet a place has been found for him at the Vagankovskoye Cemetery!!!” (Nora)

And one contributor addressed President Dmitry Medvedev in person in these words.

“How many scientists and intellectuals have died in the country over the past 10-20 years? And how many have gone elsewhere? Have the media paid at least as much attention to any of them? Personally, I have only one question to ask in this connection: “Good Lord! What is this ‘Russia, Forward!’ talk of yours all about? (A hint at the same-name policy article the president published in the web just recently) Are your serious? The Augean stables we have here are a nightmare strong enough to scare Heracles away!”

Apr. 2nd, 2008

beach sofa


(no subject)

Kommersant, 11.12.07
Election Results Official, Still Disputed.
By Viktor Khamraev
The Central Elections Commission approved the final protocol on voting in the State Duma elections on Saturday, this confirming the division of power between the parties that became known on the evening of December 3. The fifth Duma, like its predecessors, will contain four parties. The United Russia Party received 64.3 percent of the vote for 315 seats in the Duma, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation received 11.57 percent for 57 seats, the LDPR received 8.14 percent for 40 seats, and Just Russia received 7.74 percent for 38 seats.
Of the parties that failed to receive the 7 percent of votes necessary to enter the Duma, none of the received more than 4 percent, which would have qualified them to receive a 60-million ruble refund on their election deposit, or 3 percent, which would have made them eligible for state financing. Only the Agrarian Party, with 2.2 percent of the vote, avoided having to pay for the free airtime it received on television. Yabloko (with 1.59 percent of the vote), Civic Force (1.05 percent), Union of Right Forces (0.22 percent) and Democrats of Russia (0.13 percent) will have to pay for appearing on television.
All 15 members of the CEC approved the numbers, although Communist member Nikolay Kolyushin expressed a “special opinion” saying that, although he does not doubt the “arithmetic results,” the “methods by which those numbers were reached” seemed illegal to him. After the signing of the protocol, the CEC sent telegrams to the 450 candidates who won places in the new Duma. They have until December 13 to inform the CEC of whether or not they will serve as Duma members. Otherwise, others from the same party's party list will be chosen by the CEC.

The nonvoting CEC members from the Communist Party, Yabloko and Union of Right Forces have stated that they will file suit in the Supreme Court of Russia. They intend to dispute the legality of the December 8 announcement by the CEC. Under law, they say, the final protocol should contain addenda with all complaint filed to the CEC and the commission's decisions on those complaints. The opposition representatives say many of those complaints cast doubt on the results of the elections. “The Communist Party has not received a response to even one of its 90 complaints,” stated that party's nonvoting CEC member Vadim Solovyev.
beach sofa


(no subject)

Kommersant, 04.12.07
Russia Comes Down to Earth // MPs' euphoria brought to an end
By Andrey Kolesnikov
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Lavochkin Research and Production Association, where they design space technology, to announce the results of the State Duma elections yesterday. Then he returned to the Kremlin and decided to make the Duma members come in to work early. Kommersant special correspondent Andrey Kolesnikov thinks he did it so they wouldn't have the chance to fail their commander-in-chief.
“What do you think?” Alexander Ostrovsky, curator of the Lavochkin museum, asked me. “Could the president say anything lunar today?”
It sounded so romantic. But it depended on just what you thought “anything” would be. If you thought that it would be some unearthly romance such as, for example, nominating United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov for president, the answer was probably no. More realistic was a flight to the moon and the claiming of its strategic heights (there are four of them, say specialists, who would prefer to remain anonymous for the moment, and the Americans, who need the moon for the same reason they need Poland and the Czech Republic, that is, for missile defense, are well aware of it as well).
But obviously that was a lot to hope for as well. The president wanted to announce the results of the State Duma elections, and he couldn't find anywhere better to do it than a research and production association where they make space technology. All the details, including the complicated space equipment, were meant to emphasize that Russia was heading onto the future with its head held high. And the election results, specifically United Russia's showing, were to be associated with cosmic heights.
The speed with which the president commented on those results caused some wonder. The count was not even completed. But the president was in a hurry to record the event.
And the Lavochkin Association was still hoping for something lunar. n the museum, 86-year-old Oleg Ivanovsky, who, as he told me in great detail, shut the hatch behind Yury Gagarin when he took off in the Vostok spacecraft (“The lid weighed 100 kg. and had 30 locks on it and after it was closed, Sergey Korolev said that one of the lights on the control panel wasn't burning and we had to open it up again. So when I opened it, I found Gagarin singing, The homeland hears, the homeland knows…'”), talked about the great and tragic lunar past of the Soviet Union and the great lunar future of Russia, which he had no doubts that he would live to see. I had no doubts left either. He was tough enough to live as long as it takes.
Lavochkin director Georgy Polishchuk, who has clearly also given his life to that idea, showed the president new booster systems and standardized mounts, also seemed to be counting on some show of gratitude from the president, since he had chosen Lavochkin to start the presidential election campaign at (as was seen later).
“That's a telescope,” Polishchuk said as they looked at one of the association's creations, “analogous to the American Hubble. No worse, in any case, than our friends from NASA, as they say, have.”
A sarcastic smirk flashed across the president's face. He clearly did not like it that they tried to do things “no worse” than at NASA. He was probably expecting, several kilometers out of Moscow, to find a place where they do things better than in America.
“Russia has returned to interplanetary research!” Polishchuk exclaimed. Putin liked that better. “The lunar flight has been scheduled for 2012, but we moved it up to 2009 to get there before India and China!”
Putin was also interested in the association's proposals for Arctic exploration as well, especially an Arctic airship.
“There's a battle on for it!” Polishchuk exclaimed with the naivetй of a true scholar. “It obvious why: oil, gas, the continental shelf – our future is there!”
Thus he showed himself to be profoundly earthbound.
The president stopped for a few minutes at an exhibit devoted to the new Russian space center. Even though he had come to announce the results of yesterday's elections, the problems of tomorrow were still gradually taking over. Putin is obviously taken with the stars.
The space center is to be completed by 2015.
“It took a long time to choose allocation,” the president commented.
“Half a year, as you ordered,” Anatoly Perminov, head of Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency barked.
“And do we have GLONASS working?” the president asked, glancing at Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov nearby. He had promised the supreme commander about a year ago that the first the first navigation devices to run on the Russian GLONASS system would go on sale by the beginning of 2008.
Perminov also remembered.
“They will start working!” he said cheerfully. “I didn't mention it on purpose. Only Sergey Borisovich knew. Here it is: GLONASS.”
He pointed to a device with a rather wide screen, apparently meant for automobile navigation.
“It costs $500,” Ivanov put it.
“We plan to have a thousand of them in stores for New Year,” Perminov sounded a little embarrassed by this fact, as though he didn't like putting a price on his high space technology, even if the price was high too.
While the president talked to Lavochkin designers at stands displaying things outsiders were not allowed to see, the journalists got ready to talk to the president about the business at hand.
The president went over to a group of association employees who had gathered around some intricate contraption (a moon rover, I think) to take pictures and finally talked about the election results.
He was happy with the turnout.
“It's the highest turnout in the last eight years. Higher than in 1999 and 2003. The choice has been made! I hope United Russia won't let us down.”
He was talking abut his tireless stomping for them for the past several weeks.
“But not only United Russia strengthened its position. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation did as well. The number of its representatives went up. The LDPR strengthened its position. It is an unconditional success for Just Russia, which was taking part in the elections for the first time and made it into the State Duma.”
The president did not work for or against the LDPR. The presidential administration worked hard against Just Russia and only in the last two weeks, when its lowered its head and stopped criticizing United Russia, was it given a real chance.
Putin thinks the legitimacy of the Duma has increased.
In the last Duma, the members were elected by 70 percent of the voters. This Duma was elected by 90 percent, since only 10percent of voters voted for parties that did not make it into the parliament,” he explained.
In his opinion, that is a high number even for Europe. That is, Putin smirked when a scientist said that Russian telescopes are no worse than American, but he wants to emphasize that Russian elections are no worse than Western ones.
“I took the first place on that party's list and that was a sign of trust, of course,” Putin said. “It is perfectly obvious to me now that Russians will never let their country develop on a destructive path, as several other post-Soviet countries have.”
After that, the president returned to the Kremlin and met there with met with members of the government. The ministers waited a long time. They had a good time together, laughing at Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's jokes for a while, but then they got tired of it. Finance Minister Alexey Kudrin's mood may have influenced them. He looked miserable. He was not allowed to meet with his deputy minister Sergey Storchak, who has had a second case initiated against him. (According to information obtained by Kommersant, the first case is unraveling fast.)
“I think it would be correct not to wait 30 days before for the first session of the new Duma,” Putin told his ministers. “The laws gives the president the right to assemble the Duma earlier. I ask the administration and the government to prepare an order. I know that the government has already drafted a plan for legislative work, and we need to start implementing it now.”
So there is something for the parliamentarians to do. It looks like a conspiracy. The president will most likely announce the name of his successor before the end of the year. And the State Duma might come in handy for that sometime. It should at least be ready for the chance.
Maybe that was why he was in such a hurry to announce the election results. Only then could he start the new Duma working.
Or maybe he wants to load the Duma with work so that the new members don't think they're rolling in hay. Kommersant has learned that, on December 2, the day of the elections, alone, Putin signed about 30 laws and decrees that had been long awaiting his signature.
On parting, as if apologizing for the fact that the country will be witness to his global political intriguing for the selection and election of his successor, Putin said that parliamentary and presidential elections may be separated in the future “to not burden the country with endless elections.”
But only then, if there were elections every two years, would one campaign endlessly follow another.

Then it would be simpler to join them into something united, like what all of Russia has been since yesterday.
beach sofa


(no subject)


Kommersant, 21.11.07

South-Eastern Asia unites against China and India

By Alexander Gabuev

ASEAN countries build up a global unit
ASEAN summit, which was held in Singapore yesterday, ended with the signing of the first charter in the history of the organization. According to this document, by 2015 ASEAN has to become a powerful economic and political unit, something like the European Union. Most members do not keep back the truth that they have to be united because of the fear of China and India.
This 13th ASEAN summit coincided with the 40th anniversary of this big regional organization of South-Eastern Asia. The population of the countries that are its members (they are Brunei, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines) is more than 500 mln people, and their GDP is getting closer to $1 trln. The major aim of this document is creating by 2015 an effective economic unit resembling the EU by means of lifting inner restrictions on traffic of goods, work force, and money. Besides, ASEAN will create a transparent mechanism that will facilitate the in-flow of foreign investments. “This is the only way ASEAN can become competitive” – states the document. The charter also points out the aim at “supporting democracy, supremacy of law and human rights” – for this purpose a special bureau of human rights will be formed. Thus, on the one hand as it appears to onlookers, most items of the charter reveal the wish to become closer to the West. However, all attributes of democracy are devoid of real power, and more likely, that they are seen by the ASEAN as a means of attracting foreign investors. For instance, the Human Rights Bureau will have only observation functions and will not be able to introduce sanctions against the regimes violating the rights of their citizens.

The real incentive for the unification of ASEAN though – as many participants of the forum admitted yesterday – is the fear of the growing economic expansion of the new Asian economic giants – China and India. “We have five more years to be able not to lag behind China and India. “The adoption of the charter should guarantee that ASEAN will be able to use this time properly” – said Robert Yap, Chairman of Business Advisory Council. However, China can take advantage of the integration processes within ASEAN: although they will complicate matters for companies of continental China, at the same time they will to a considerable extent reinforce the position of the huge Chinese expatriate community in SEA which now occupies the key posts in economics of the most developed ASEAN countries. It is not by chance that Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Wen Jiabao, who was present at the summit yesterday, welcomed the adoption of the charter and had a mysterious smile on his face.

Mar. 29th, 2008



December 2007

Time names Putin Person of the Year (The Moscow News)
The Real Values in Kosovo (Kommersant)
UN at a Loose End (Kommersant)
The West brushing aside Moscow’s arguments (NG-Dipkurier)

Tags: , ,