Friday, February 26, 2010

Khodorkovsky, Putin, and the Yukos Afair

The above is an article appearing in the 25 February 2010 issues of the London Review of Books.  It is written by Keith Gessen and entitled “Cell Block Four.”   It is a review of Richard Sakwa’s The Quality of Freedom: Khodorkovsky, Putin and the Yukos Affair. 
It isn’t likely that many of us in the U.S. are going to read the book.  It is priced at 177.31 USD at, if you want to read a “new” copy, and they only have one left.
Is Khodorkovsky guilty of the crimes he has been convicted of?  Gessen and probably Sakwa (if we can believe Gessen) think not.  They think this imprisonment of Khodorkovsky is an example of Putin flexing his muscles in order to punish the only “oligarch” who refused to escape to some other country.  Khodorkovsky, it seems, if we can believe him, and Gessen and Sakwa apparently do, did nothing wrong – or didn’t think he had done anything wrong.  His achievement with Yukos does sound admirable, the creation of an oil company that at one time paid more taxes into the Russian Federation’s coffers than any other enterprise, but the Red Queen said “off with his head,” and with that level of arbitrariness he was sent to prison where he has been for the past six years, and there may be more punishment in store for him after his eight-year sentence is up.
If we could return to the 19th Century, the leaders of any nation would probably have made short work of a Khodorkovsky – well, perhaps not in any nation.  We wouldn’t have imprisoned a “Robber Baron” who did something along the lines of a Khodorkovsky.  We created new laws and gave them all fair warning.  We made them stop – sort of.  We in the U.S. seem always to have known that entrepreneurship is a valuable quality to be encouraged.  We have not sought to punish our entrepreneurs but merely to curb their greed when it becomes too egregious.  But letting loose the reins as much as possible has been good for our nation – at least in the economic sense.  We are as rich as we are, and that richness has trickled down quite substantially, as a result of them. 
Is the Russian Federation going to follow suit?  Is it going to encourage its entrepreneurs?  Well, not the first batch, not the equivalent of America’s 19th century “Robber Barons.”   Under the influence of Heidegger, I can’t help suspecting that Russia’s “place of authentication” is different from America’s.  Here, we value our entrepreneurs.  Over there they seem to value something more restrictive, more authoritarian; which almost certainly won’t play well, competitively, against the Liberal Democracies of the world.  Unless they can loosen up and become more like the Liberal Democracies of the world, a few years from now a successor to Bernard Lewis might write another What Went Wrong?
It is not hopeless, we will be reminded.  After all, they have oil, but that is what Middle-Eastern nations have.  What comes after the oil?  They have no plans for that eventuality, but it is probably not going to be pretty.  Could the Russian Federation do better than Middle-Eastern nations are likely to?  In my opinion they can.  A good first step would be to turn Khodorkovsky loose and let him do what he does best, create wealth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Khodorkovsky matter has always been somewhat fishy, but it is not clear where the rotting head is.

People in the Soviet Union could not amass vast sums of money. While Khodokovsky may have had more money than most when the change occurred, it would have been impossible that he should have had so much money to acquire the oil and gas company. So - where did he have that kind of money from, I asked freshly arrived mature aged Russians through an interpreting hostess. From the Red Army was their reply. I was too stunned to ask back if the Red Army had been a bank, or where they may have had that kind of money from, or misappropriated their own budget in favour of Khodokovsky's acquisition.
Months later asked a European who had been in the energy sector for decades what his thoughts were. Khodorkovsky was preparing to sell or maybe 'sell' the gas interests to foreign companies, he said. I believe that source, and would think the customers might have been the secret Red Army financiers?! Gas is the glue that holds Russia together, so the authorities looked into the grey corners of Khodorkovsky's companies, after he had said he preferred to be in prison, not in exile.
People have been pulling a lot of wool over many eyes, it seems. Pity there wasn't a WikiLeaks then so we might know which fibs all of them have been telling.