Magazine article Russian Life

The Ultimate Choice

Magazine article Russian Life

The Ultimate Choice

Article excerpt

There has been an amazing duel going on for the last several months. The opponents exchange fierce blows and no one surrenders. Meanwhile, the public is watching and cheering. Yet the dueling code is not being followed properly: one duelist is sitting in Kremlin; the other is in prison. But both believe things may change.

The nine-year prison sentence handed down this summer to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ex-head of YUKOS, was by no means the end of the matter. On Monday, August 1, the newspaper Vedomosti published a letter from "Detention Facility No. 99/1," in which Khodorkovsky criticized Putin and predicted an inevitable "left turn" (that was the title of the article). The prisoner, among other things, called on Putin to step down at the end of his term in 2008. Yet the letter was clearly not addressed to the president, but to the electorate. And the Kremlin got the message loud and clear.

The answer came promptly: Khodorkovsky was transferred to a crowded cell (inhabited by 11 men) and denied access to news (television and newspapers), and to a refrigerator. Federal Prison Service Chief Yury Kalinin explained that Khodorkovsky was moved because of renovations at the facility.

On August 11, Khodorkovsky announced that he was considering running for the State Duma seat in Moscow's Universitetsky single-mandate district in December. A convicted prisoner cannot run for a Duma seat, but, in accordance with the Constitution, a prisoner's sentence does not come into force until all his appeals are exhausted. So there was no legal obstacle barring him from running for office. If elected, Khodorkovsky would technically have received immunity from further prosecution (later, he said he would have refused the immunity in any case).

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This time, Khodorkovsky's friend and business associate (who received a nine-year sentence along with Khodorkovsky), the seriously ill Platon Lebedev, was thrown into solitary confinement "for refusing to take daily walks and for rude behavior towards prison staff." Journalist Yulia Latynina commented: "In general, the thought is a reasonable one. If the guy who is tied up and whom you just kicked still won't lick your boots, there is no need to kick him again. All you need to do is threaten his buddy with death."

Khodorkovsky responded by going on a hunger strike, which lasted seven days (it was a "dry" hunger strike--he took neither food nor water), until Lebedev was transferred back to his cell. …

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