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Returns the Gulag

by David Pryce-Jones

The Khodorkovsky trial exposes the ugly truth of Putin’s Russia

How extraordinary, and how ominous, that Russia is still the stage for show trials. This time, the victims are Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev. Once they were both well known, indeed when Khodorkovsky was chairman of the oil company Yukos he is said to have been the richest man in Russia. Then one day in 2003 armed men pulled him off his private plane and his ordeal began.

Khodorkovsky’s fortune had come about through the collapse of Communism. In a moment of high drama and hope, Boris Yeltsin succeeded in opening a new political course for the country. President of post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s, he had to manage the transition from the command economy to capitalism; and one indispensable measure was the sale of state assets. Khodorkovsky was one of the emerging oligarchs with the wits to take advantage of an arbitrary process of redistributing property. Yukos was a company with oil concessions, and he was able to buy it for a fraction of its value, and build it up to a nominal worth of $23 billion.

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