Legal Nihilism Continues in Russia
Matthews, Owen, Newsweek
Byline: Owen Matthews
The latest verdict against Mikhail Khodorkovsky may have been a foregone conclusion, but it nevertheless came as a big blow to those Russians who had hoped their country was changing for the better. While few thought Khodorkovsky would be exonerated, polls said a mere 13 percent of the country believed the jailed oligarch was guilty of the new embezzlement charges against him. His conviction has underscored the sense that Dmitry Medvedev's grand promises of reform have all meant nothing.
In 2009, just a year into his presidency, Medvedev issued a rousing manifesto calling for an end to "endemic corruption" and exhorting Russians to "prove to ourselves and the world that Russia can develop in a democratic way." In his State of the Nation speech soon after, he denounced "legal nihilism"--the misuse of law by the powerful--as a fundamental obstacle to achieving a "modern, prosperous, democratic society." Back then, his words sounded inspiring. But the outcome of Khodorkovsky's most recent trial has demolished Medvedev's credibility.
Khodorkovsky's first trial, in 2004, was clearly a political move. While it's true that many independent legal experts say there was some substance to the original tax-evasion case, it's also true that the oligarch had been financing opposition parties in open defiance of then-president Vladimir Putin's efforts to bring Russia's major businesses under Kremlin control. …