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Awaiting verdict in Khodorkovsky trial

The delivery of a verdict in the second criminal case against former YUKOS executives Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev has been postponed from December 15 to December 27. From the legal point of view this can be attributed to the mere unavailability of the verdict - such things are not rare in legal proceedings. However, the suspicious thing is that a decision to postpone the verdict was made just a few hours before the morning of December 15.

From the political point of view, one can consider two main versions to explain the developments. The first one is based on conspiracy - the decision to voice a severe sentence has not been made by top authorities. There is probably still some bargain going on between different groups around Russia's PM and president. Some groups that maximally benefited from the YUKOS case insist on following the hard line against the ex-mogul, while the other (those who want Dmitry Medvedev to be president in 2012 to 2018 and improvement of relations with the West) do not rule out a compromise. Conditions of this potential compromise are possibly discussed with Khodorkovsky, who was many times hinted that admitting his guilt in this or that form would mean his release. Yet, so far Khodorkovsky has refused such deals insisting on his full innocence.

The second version of delay in the verdict delivery is simpler and thus it looks more realistic. According to it, a decision on the sentence has already been made, side effects in the form of a negative reaction by the West and Russian liberals are acknowledged inevitable and the only thing possible in this situation is to minimize the mass media focus on this topic. This is why a simple media trick was chosen - to start delivering the verdict several days before the New Year expecting it to get lost in different non-political festive news reports. Moreover, the West will be actively celebrating Christmas at this time. The announcement of the sentence will finish in mid January when most Russians will not have dived into work and the everyday informational context still being affected by the long holidays. Many representatives of elites as well as journalists, publicists and experts may also be not at the place as over the past few years they have preferred spending holidays abroad it the first two weeks of January.

Obviously the negative media effect for Russian state authorities will be softened but not rooted out - anyway there will be critical articles and statements about the verdict in the Khodorkovsky case. The image damage is unavoidable but it is unlikely to be critical for the Putin system. In reality the western business community represented by major entrepreneurs and leaders of Europe's main countries long ago accepted the YUKOS case consequences having opted for cooperation with Russia negotiating freer access to Russian deposits not focusing on discussions about Khodorkovsky's fate.

By Stanislav Mitrakhovich, NESF leading expert



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Analytical series “The Political compass”:

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State Corporations in the Russian Economy
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Political Landscape Ahead of the Parliamentary Election 2007
«Centers of influence» in the Russian politics

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