Is Putin pitiable, or is the FT corrupt?

Putin Pities the FT 300x191 Is Putin pitiable, or is the FT corrupt?

Reading the FT on Russia, what is interesting is not what they write – it is why they write it. A friend of T&B was told face-to-face about six months ago by an FT editor that, as a journalist here, one’s role has to be ”to write about how awful Russia is”. (While, admittedly, T&B does not know many FT journalists in Poland, Belgium or Mexico, we strongly suspect that they have an entirely different mandate. Only in Russia has the paper descended to outright advocacy…)

A recent propaganda piece in praise of Khodorkovsky – proudly splashed across the front page of the Financial Times in defiance of the most basic journalistic ethics – is so transparently self-serving, dishonest, and in a few points frankly absurd, that one is at a bit of a loss where to start. We shall borrow a technique from Russia: Other points of view – numbering the paragraphs in the original for discussion.

Khodorkovsky says Putin is ‘pitiable’

By Isabel Gorst in Moscow
Published: December 24 2010 14:27 | Last updated: December 24 2010 14
(and still at the top of their website three days later…)

(Inserted numbers are by T&B, for ease of reference.)

1. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed Russian tycoon, has lashed out at Vladimir Putin, describing his nemesis as a pitiable but dangerous leader steering his country towards degradation and chaos.

2. In a newspaper article published on Friday, three days before a judge begins reading the verdict in a fresh trial that could keep him in jail until 2017, Mr Khodorkovsky said the Russian prime minister was trapped in the cynical political establishment he had created, indifferent to the fate of its people.

3. “I suddenly realised I was sorry for this man – no longer young, but vigorous and horribly lonely in the face of a vast and unsympathetic country,” he said.

4. The latest trial reaches its conclusion before the expiry of an eight-year sentence handed down after a first trial for fraud and tax evasion. After his conviction in 2005, Yukos, the giant oil producer he founded, was confiscated and sold, mainly to state oil companies, to help settle alleged tax debts.

5. Critics say the new charges are aimed at keeping Mr Khodorkovsky, who emerged as a champion of democracy before his arrest, behind bars long after presidential elections in 2012.

6. Together with Platon Lebedev, his business partner, Mr Khodorkovsky is now being tried on fresh charges of embezzlement that even his critics have slammed as absurd. On Monday, a Moscow judge will begin reading out a verdict that is expected to hand the two men additional prison sentences of six years.

7. The publication of the stinging article comes after Mr Putin suggested during a nationwide phone-in with Russians last week that Mr Khodorkovsky could have blood on his hands after Yukos’ former security chief was convicted for murder.

8. Defence lawyers for Mr Khodorkovsky accused Mr Putin of putting pressure on the judge to pronounce a guilty verdict and threatened to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

9. In his article, Mr Khodorkovsky said corruption had increased tenfold since Mr Putin came to power in 2000 and disputed the prime minister’s claims to have boosted stability in Russia.

10. He drew a direct link between rising corruption and the outbreak of racial clashes in Russian cities this month that has exposed a dangerous surge in ultra-nationalism in the country. “Don’t fool yourself. Thousands and thousands of suddenly brutalised youngsters are a clear signal that our children see no future for themselves. This is clearly the threatening result of Putin’s stability,” he wrote.

11. “They are our future, they are our grief, they are the most tragic result of the decade of ‘getting back on our feet’ when there was money in abundance but no compassion.”

12. Mr Khodorkovsky has said in the past he would stay out of politics after his release and dedicate his life to social and charitable projects. But on Friday he hinted of a possible return to politics. “ We will develop the country ourselves… We can do it. We are the people after all. And it is ours. Russia.”

13. Mr Khodorkovsky’s second trial is seen as a litmus test of Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president’s pledge to reform the judiciary and uproot corruption.

Speaking to television journalists on Friday, Mr Medvedev, a lawyer by training, refused to comment on the trial.

“Neither the president, nor any other official, has the right to express his or her position on this case or any other case before the verdict is passed, regardless of whether it is a guilty or an innocent verdict,” he said.

1. Anyone living in Russia in the 1990s knows precisely what “degradation and chaos” look like. If Mr. Khodorkovsky is the sole oligarch to be truly concerned for the well-being of the Russian populace, why was it that, when he was becoming fabulously wealthy as his country dissolved into disaster, he never went on the record to complain of it? Why did he pay just $200m for an oil company worth tens of billions when the country was sliding into bankruptcy? Why use offshore schemes instead of paying taxes if he was concerned with the commonweal?

2.  Again, Khodorkovsky – and especially his lieutenants the vicious Nezhlin and Lebedev – were notorious for his callous brutality. The privatization of Apatit alone filled up a medium-sized graveyard in the Urals. Russia may be a sometimes-brutal place, but people like him made it far more so.

3. Mr. Putin gives every sign of enjoying his job, and loneliness does not seem to be an issue for him. Perhaps Khodorkovsky is confusing the Prime Minister’s fate with his own.

4. Correct.

5. Khodorkovsky was never known to champion anything other than the power of the oligarchy. Had he been a champion of democracy, his first act would have been to stop freely corrupting the Russian Duma, media, and bureaucracy. Before his arrest, he never showed any signs of wishing to relinquish the corrupt oligarchic grip on the Russian political system. It is most unlikely that, were he to be freed tomorrow, he would do anything fundamentally different.

6. Nowhere else in the article are Khodorkovsky’s critics even identified – indeed, reading the FT text, it is hard to imagine that Khodorkovsky has any critics. T&B has not heard any of Khodorkovsky’s many critics describing the charges as “absurd” – perhaps the FT is confusing the words “critic” and “shill”. Otherwise, we would like to know who, precisely, they are referring to… Or did they simply invent it, in order to finish up the paragraph on a suitably acerbic note?

7. Khodorkovsky unquestionably DOES have blood on his hands. His head of security, Alexei Pichugin, is serving a 20-year sentence (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4393003.stm) for a series of contract murders: Menatep’s terror tactics were common knowledge in the 1990s, when their opponents lived in terror (and T&B was forbidden to write anything critical of them by our erstwhile employer). What is outrageous is that their head of security, the ex-KGB operative Pichugin, was convicted, but not the bosses who ordered the hits. 

Explaining why he has not been accused, Khodorkovsky apologists claim that the charges would never hold up in court. Then, in almost the same breath, they claim that the courts are transparently manipulated by the government – one cannot have it both ways! Either the courts are fair, and Khodorkovsky is as guilty as Cain, or they are unfair, in which case it seems most unlikely that a murder charge would be rejected.

Perhaps the Russian government is holding the murder charge in reserve as an ultimate, nuclear threat against Yukos-Menatep if it were to do further damage – though we are at a loss to imagine what this further damage might be. In either event, it seems an outrage that justice not been done to the victims.

8. Prima facie absurd. Again, they have spent years telling us that the courts are totally controlled by the government. If so, why should Putin bother to publicly pressure a court which is in his pocket anyway? You cannot have it both ways. As for suing before the European Court of Human Rights – one can, if one wishes, sue the Bishop of Boston for Bastardy… But one is most unlikely to prevail.

9. He is on drugs! From what we read in the press, Russian corruption was reported to account for at least 20% of GDP in 2000. So it now accounts for 200%? Why be so modest? Why not 2,000%??  More than 100% of GDP going to anything at all is a logical absurdity – but we are in the realm of fantasy here.

10. More insanity. “Suddenly brutalized” (!) – Russia has been a very hard place for the past several hundred years! Skinhead violence was as brutal and far more prevalent during the mid-1990s. It remains a serious problem. Anyone visiting the poorer suburbs of Moscow, but also of Paris or Brussels, will know how widespread it is.

Again, Khodorkovsky and his ilk showed no concern with such social ills in the past. Not surprising, in that they rode around in armoured limousines with large and well-armed security details.

11. Again, to claim that the “skinhead-nationalist-racist” problem is of recent vintage suggests he takes the journalists for morons (alas, at least in this one assessment, he is apparently correct!).

12. Mr. Khodorkovsky’s likelihood of winning an election of any sort in Russia is similar to T&B’s being appointed to the Holy Synod. Less likely really, since never having heard of him, the majority of the electorate does not hate T&B.

Anyone speaking a few words of Russian should simply ask a random selection of a) taxi drivers, b) shop clerks, c) people on the street car, what they think of the oligarchs in general – and of Khodorkovsky in particular. The responses will be fairly rabid. The only significant group of Russians supporting him is the small, English-speaking coterie of members of the Moscow chattering classes who surround most foreign journalists.

13. Who declared it a litmus test? The FT? Are they chemists? No one except the journalists and those in the pay of Menatep much cares anymore. It has been two years since a foreign investor enquired with us about this matter.

It is a criminal case against a man who was as guilty as the worst of his peers, but who, unlike them, refused to cease and desist after the feeble Yeltsin regime collapsed and a more purposeful government took its place.

Of course, Mr. Putin is being disingenuous when he claims that he does not have evidence against any of the other oligarchs. There is ample evidence against many of them. The difference is they knew when to quit, and were not megalomaniacal enough to threaten the Russian state.

We have said it before – we shall say it again. The “journalist” authoring this paper is either a fool or a knave – either corrupted by Yukos money, or totally ignorant of what was public knowledge in the 1990s: that the oil oligarchs were robbing the state blind!

The argument that trying Khodorkovsky now involves double-jeopardy suggests either laziness or intentional disinformation. A quick look at Wikipedia will show that the first Khodorkovsky trial was for the criminal privatization of Apatit, not for the theft from Yukos.

In fact, the ONLY credible legal defense for Khodorkovsky is the “everyone was doing it too” argument. There is only one problem – that it is not a legal defense.  We are not aware of any system of justice where it would be an accepted defense. The fact that there were other Ponzi schemes was not exculpatory for Bernie Madoff; that other guys were trading on insider information did not keep Boesky out of jail. People with dark and ugly pasts are best advised to be very, very careful and to avoid antagonizing those who could hold them to account for their past crimes… and the FT damned well knows it!

Lies, Damned lies, and the FT

A number of our readers have written to us expressing skepticism as regards our version of the Yukos affaire. This is hardly surprising – we scan the mainstream Western press in vain for anyone seriously questioning what has become the official narrative.

Is it not extraordinary that none of the famously free and fair Western media even expresses doubt as to whether he is not, in fact, guilty as charged? Could they, in fact, be regimented and beholden to a very specific agenda?

As we have noted previously – we do not find Russia either more or less corrupt than the West. The difference is that Russia has mostly “honest corruption” i.e. well-stuffed envelopes – fee-for-service, without any particular hypocrisy. In the West, on the other hand, the media are bought, generally not for cash.

Cash, of course, does play a vital role. Despite the best efforts of the Russian state, Yukos/Menatep retains control of its stolen billions parked abroad (it is for this reason that the Russian administration rightly fears Khodorkovsky – clever, vicious, infused with a sense of mission, with unlimited access to Western corridors of power, and controlling a multi-billion dollar war chest – back on the street he could be infinitely more pernicious than the equally criminal Berezovsky). This money is channeled through a dense network of political fixers, right-wing think tanks, Washington political operatives, PR and government relations firms (notably APCO, run, disconcertingly, by one Margery Kraus… no relation!), law firms such as Robert Amsterdam (essentially a very effective political huckster posing as an attorney), with scores of Western public figures on the payroll.

We do not have any evidence that publications such as the FT actually receive cash for their disinformation. That would be too simple. The most senior editors lunch with the good and the great – they attended the same schools – sit at the same clubs. Underpaid, they thrive on honours, access, that sense of belonging. Perhaps we are naïve – perhaps some cold cash changes hands. Simply – we are not aware of it.

Whatever the reason – the fact that it is openly “corrupt” is beyond reasonable dispute. The reader can draw his own conclusions as to whether a similar letter written by Bernard Madoff expressing his pity for Barack Obama would have made it onto the front pages of the FT!

This headline news was, after all, nothing more than a poorly drafted broadside by a convicted criminal lashing out at the legitimate government of his country. The fact that Khodorkovsky stole billions rather than millions clearly justifies his moving up on the page – but it does not make this front-page news!

No – the article was placed. Powerful and well-financed sources saw to it that it was given front page coverage. Money CAN buy you “Truth” in the Western press – and unlike the slightly jaded Russian populace, Westerners actually believe their own propaganda. 

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26 Responses to Is Putin pitiable, or is the FT corrupt?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Eric,

    You are right in much of what you say about MK. The guy belongs behind
    bars.

    But you are totally wrong about the FT’s motivation. And you discredit
    yourself by making absurd allegations of which you have no proof. The FT
    is bigger than MK and ultimately longer-lasting than T&B and even Putin. I
    know you will find that hard to believe but it’s true. And the FT isn’t
    going to start to take bribes to write an article about two crooks, MK and
    Putin.

    It’s just that the FT, like the Economist, calls Russia like it sees
    Russia. Corrupt, sleazy and undemocratic. You may not agree but that
    doesn’t mean that they are taking bribes…. anymore, I hope, than you
    are.

    Be careful, your article reads more like you are being bribed than that
    the FT is being bribed.

    • T&B says:

      Thank you for taking the time to reply.

      Reading your missive, I would ask you to go back and reread my piece
      carefully.
      I expressed the view – reiterated here – that the coverage in the FT was
      “corrupt” – but NOT in the sense of payment-for-service, i.e. Well-stuffed
      envelopes.
      Western media are far more subtle than that.
      Like our political institutions – they would never do something as vulgar
      as solicit a bribe – yet they faithfully serve the interests of the
      economic entities wh0 control them.

      I think you are a bit disingenuous in suggesting that they truly believe
      what they write.
      They truly believe what they are told to believe, or leave and join the
      blogosphere, or some place on the fringe.
      I wish I had a headache pill for every journalist who – in his cups – told
      me that his positive comments and quotes re: Russia had somehow failed to
      find their way into their paper.
      Do you really believe that The Economist believed that Iraq had weapons of
      mass destruction? When the Hearst Press drumming up the Spanish-American
      War – do you imagine they really believed what they wrote? The respectable
      US press during the slaughter in Vietnam? Pravda?

      The journalists are by-and-large no fools. Smarter by half than most of us
      investment bankers.
      NOT ONE OF THEM who I have spoken with recently bothered to deny that
      Khodorkovsky was almost certainly a murderer.
      Instead, the indignantly point out to me how many other murderers there
      are…and rightly pointed out the numerous lacunae in the Russian judicial
      system.

      The latter point is well taken, but why on earth choose Khodorkovsky as
      your improbably martyr? If you want to find martyrs in Russia – there is,
      alas, no shortage. It is almost a cottage industry. Perhaps then theyy
      should start elsewhere than with a murderous gangster, no matter how rich!

      Is it purely by coincidence that – during the catastrophic 1990s, when
      Russia was doing the bidding of the West – press coverage was fawning?
      Despite the fact that the country was totally dysfunctional, problems were
      explained by the “messy process of attaining democracy…”
      When the American-import of a political system collapsed, and a more
      purposeful and nationalistic President took over – suddenly Russia could
      do no right – despite the fact that no sane person could deny that the
      situation became far better than what had preceded it.

      Your last point is hilarious! Who on earth would bother to bribe us? The
      Kremlin? Please! As if they gave a damn…
      The major distributor of bribes around here is Menatep – the funded
      Carnegie, numerous NGOs, quite a few commentators – Aslund amongst others
      - alas, I don’t think we are on their Christmas list!
      Pure and now-unsponsored given our mistreatment of sacred cows – T&B shall
      have to remain a labour of love!

      Best Regards,

      Eric Kraus
      Dba Ursus Ursa

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve known Mikhail since late 80s and I also had some business
    dealing with him and Platon while I was at UBS (just before he was
    arrested) and years before that at PW (before the C was added). I also
    know VVP (and more importantly he knows me:) since 1994. While Russia
    by all means is not a perfect country, the Western press, and FT in
    particular could not and should not be taken seriously. My personal
    knowledge of what really happened in certain situations and reading
    depictions of the same by some journalists made me learn one thing about
    any press (please, don’t take it personally – T&B is mostly an
    exception): Kto platit, tot zakazyvaet muzyku.
    What’s really peculiar about “Yukos affair” is that this is actually a
    proof of how much Russia is NOT like the Soviet Union. Can you imagine
    getting ANY information about any jailed dissident in the Soviet times
    in any official press?

  3. Maurizio Bragaglia says:

    Thanks you very much for your latest issue of T&B, it’s truly appreciated
    here.
    I wonder if you like me find striking similarities between today’s China
    position in/relationship with the world and that of Imperial Germany 1895-1914.

    Inept handling of their relationship with neighbours;
    Growing industrial prowess vs the incumbent power;
    Assertive nationalism;
    Big chip on the shoulders;
    And finally, they are building a blue water navy!

    Happy New Year and thanks again

    Maurizio Bragaglia

    • T&B says:

      Maurizio,

      It is an interesting question.
      They do not appear to be building any railroads to Baghdad, nor do they
      have any obvious colonial intentions (NEO-colonail perhaps) but I see you
      point. That said, I would suggest that this is characteristic of the
      expansionary phase of ALL empires. Think of the rise of the British,
      French and American.
      I never suggested that this will end well…

      Best Regards,

      Eric

      P.s. I will review my old AJP Taylor books, and perhaps come back to this
      question in an upcoming issue

  4. James Blake says:

    I agree with you 100% Eric, but reckon you are a tad late on the scene. Most of the english language press has been running the same sorts of trite for ages – since early November in the latest spasm.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/14/mikhail-khodorkovsky-russia

    The above being a classic example. The weird thing is, as someone who
    occasionally drinks with some of the English press here, even when you sit
    them down and explain to them (and they generally know Khodorkhovsky was a
    crook) they will invariably tell you they couldn’t get pieces published that went to the nub of the issue. As you point out it is a bloody minded refusal to look at the facts, and refusal to do look at anything other than the same old ‘Kick Russia’ line.

    JB

    • T&B says:

      James,

      Someone has to tilt at the windmills! If not me, then who?
      I have been writing about this goddam story since 2003, am heartily sick of it, but the Western press continues to repeat the same transparent lies fed to them by Menatep (though, to their credit, the NYT did a story today which was reasonably balanced – at least by American standards).

      They have been running these stories since 2003. And for as long as Menatep’s money does not run out, they will continue to do so.

      We both know that EVERY journalist in this town who was here in the 90s, or has any knowledge of that decade, knows just how guilt Khodorkovsky is. I have had no one actually deny to me that K. is almost certainly a murderer… And yet, they consent to defend him. The issue is thus, how does one define “corruption”.

      Time to saddle up the old nag and ride back out!

      Eric

  5. Anonymous says:

    The interesting question. Remember Paris is worth a mass. I remember you
    as a Frenchman

    Even if we follow your one sided story, reluctantly, with Russia in such a
    need of Foreign investments,what is the logic with this case?

    What does it really tell us about the real mind of russian rulers and how
    can we teach them what Henri IV understood so well, without spending any
    PR money I believe.

    • T&B says:

      I think it is a very open question whether or not this will have any
      effect whatsoever on foreign investment.
      Not a single investor who I speak with – and I speak with a fair number -
      has shown any concern with the matter – not for the past 2-3 years have I
      had to field any questions about Yukos. This too shall blow over…
      Interestingly, the Bloomberg paper which reported on Khodorkovsky’s fate
      was sandwiched between two papers on major investments by GE in the
      Russian technology sector – this after the multi-billion dollar Pepsico
      purchase of WBD.

      Is it not passing strange that the press shows you no such hysteria about
      China – a fine democracy, that!

  6. Anonymous says:

    A similar tone is maintained by the New York Times, the Economist and the
    Wall Street Journal. All news about Russia constantly have a negative spin.
    No positive news.

    And because the Moscow publication “Vedomosti” is sponsored by FT and WSJ
    the negative slant penetrates directly into Russia’s business community.

    Psychological warfare at maximum throttle!

    The newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst told his photographer 112
    years ago: “give me pictures, and I will produce the war” referring to a
    then desultory local insurgency against Spain in Cuba. And so Hearst did –
    using phony pictures he manufactured the Spanish-American War of 1898. I do
    not expect a hot war between Russia and US (nuclear weapons and all that)
    but the Cold War may be resurrected, which would suit many…

    My theory is that the reason for current anti-Russian propaganda is banal:
    Russia, like other BRIC countries, has great ROI potential for investors; so
    the bad press intends to keep Western capital influx as low as possible. Of
    course, this attempt is backfiring: American investors who trust NYT, FT,
    the Economist and WSJ on Russia are getting marginalised by Europeans and
    Asians, who are making excellent profits investing in Russia, while
    Americans remain fixated on gossip and innuendo about Russia…

    • T&B says:

      Thanks so much for your reply!

      Yes, there is clearly a managed campaign – and the negative slant definitely penetrates – though in my experience, the Russians can be more doggedly pessimistic and doctrinaire than the worst of foreigners. I am not quite sure they take what they say entirely seriously.

      Certainly, those investors who followed the advice implicit in the coverage by the FT, the Economist, etc. have paid a very high price.
      I remember trying to peddle Russian Eurobonds to Swiss mainstream clients who fobbed me off, explaining that with a bit of leverage, they could make the same returns on those new-fangled US mortgage-backed securities – and with far less risk. Needless to say, the individuals in question now sleep with the fishes.

      Best regards,

      Eric

  7. Anonymous says:

    The German press is not much better, and the public figures I talk to
    seem to even be convinced of what the relatively nonsensical stuff they
    say, but does that not beg the question why the Russians are unable to
    make a better case in particular making a bad one may well cost them
    billions in lost court battles? It is interesting to follow your line of
    speculation, namely that the murder charges against Khodorkovsky are
    left for a worst case scenarion, which probably would be the direct
    trace of money to the highest echelon. I have heard from pretty credible
    people that Fradkov was only chosen because he was basically the only
    person with some position and without links to Yukos, which suggests
    what harm Khodorkovsky could do. If that is true, Khodorkovsky is left
    playing to be a saint and the West just happens to be foolish enough to
    believe, but what I find staggering is the damage of this play within
    the countries with many deputies or other influential people privately
    saying the affair was the end of every honest attempt to do something.

    Another theory (which none less than a smart prosecutor believe is
    right) is that Sechin and Putin do in reality not have the professional
    in criminal law to support them in a better way than this maladroit
    tribunal they are doing now, and maybe some blocking of Israel and the
    USA, residence and friends of Mr. Nevzlins may play a role.

    • T&B says:

      The Russians are the single most incompetent communicators I have ever met.
      Your typical houseplant could do better…these guys could make themselves
      look evil handing out Christmas Candy to orphans!
      And of course, they are arrayed against the Menatep billions and their PR
      people, and government relations people, and lawyers, and God knows how
      deeply their money has corrupted the Western political system where – of
      course- no one was ever tempted by a bribe!

      The Russians fail to understand what the Chinese picked up very quickly.
      You prick the dragon and he turns around and roasts you! The Russian
      whimper and wonder why does the West not love them.
      If Western courts start to screw around with Russian oil, the Russian can
      easily enough retaliate. Join OPEC (if the Russian government wants to
      seriously control output, I doubt if there will be to many candidates to
      share a cell with Mr. X). Increase deliveries to China. Announce that
      Transneft will shut down for two weeks of unscheduled preventative
      maintenance – then watch oil prices hit $200…

      They need to understand about dealing with the West what the West
      understood about dealing with the USSR…that these people respect only
      force! But that they respect…

      I have no doubt that you are correct – that Yukos money spread far and
      wide, and corrupted the great and the small.
      That said, it was well beyond the statute of limitations – crimes
      committed in the 90s come under a conditional statute of limitations -
      provided that one has foresworn the ways of Satan, forgiveness is
      available.

      As regards the prosecution of Khodorkovsky for murder, I have heard a
      half-dozen theories.
      The problems with Russian jury trials, the limited competence of the
      prosecutors office, the “nuclear option” in reserve, or simply the
      parallel with Al Capone. Knowing full well that he was a murderous thug,
      yet the FBI could never pin a murder rap on him – so they got him on tax
      evasion instead. Same effect, really…

      I do not understand your remarks about Israel? How could THEY block it?

      The good news is how little it matters! The market is up today. The rouble
      is strengthening. Money is pouring back into Russia.
      US companies are again active (Pepsico for >$3bn, GE, etc.) Oil is on a
      tear. Khodorkovsky will again be forgotten, will briefly resurface only to
      be sent down again, ad infinitum…

      • Anonymous says:

        I have a little to add to your response (in capitals).

        Regarding: “They need to understand about dealing with the West what the West understood about dealing with the USSR…that these people respect only force! But that they respect…”

        THIS IS WHERE WE HAVE DIFFERENT VIEWS – THERE IS NOT SO MUCH TO RESPECT BECAUSE MR. P. LOVES CONFUSION (WHICH OF COURSE IS EMBEDDED INTO SOMETHING LOOKING VERY SERIOUS). YOU WILL SAY THAT THE COUNTRY IS GOING WELL AND I WILL ANSWER THAT I AM JUST READING THE MEMOIRES OF CELSO FURTADO WHO EXPLAINS IN DETAIL HOW EVERYTHING HAS BEEN MISHANDLED IN BRAZIL AND STILL BRAZIL IS NOT SO BAD A COUNTRY.

        Regarding: “I do not understand your remarks about Israel? How could THEY block it?”

        MR. NEVZLIN IS, BY ALL ACCOUNTS, THE MAN BETWEEN PITCHUGIN AND KHODORKOVSKY. HE IS HAPPILY SITTING IN ISRAEL AND WITH SOME SPECIAL STATUE MAKING AN APPEARANCE IN CONGRESS FROM TIME TO TIME (OR DID THE MEDIA GET THAT WRONG?). IN A NORMAL WORLD, IT WOULD ONLY TAKE A BIT OF EFFORT TO GET A PROSECUTOR IN ISRAEL TO DO SOMETHING.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Dear Eric, that’s almost certainly defamatory.

    Your views have merit but it’s also apparent that you misunderstand

    the nature of news reporting: Khodorkovsky is a newsmaker: reporting his
    comments is quite legitimate and does not signify that the journalist or
    the publication that do so endorse his views. I don’t always agree with
    the editorial line of the FT or The Economist. But your comments are way out of order.

    • T&B says:

      I hope so! Freed from the bondage of political correctness, I do think it
      is time that someone started calling a spade “a spade.”

      Khodorkovsky is a newsmaker because the media want him to be one. Without
      the constant media drumbeat, he would be forgotten ages ago.

      The excuse of the FT is that foreign investors are focused upon it.
      Bollocks! I speak with them every day, and it has been two years since
      anyone expressed any serious concern about the Yukos story (yes, a couple
      of market jockeys told me that there would be a short term bounce in the
      RTS if he got a light sentence – but who really cares?)

      As I asked, rhetorically, had Bernie Madoff written a letter slandering
      Obama, do you think they would have slavishly reproduced it on the front
      pages? I doubt it. The fact that Khodorkovsky stole billions does win him
      a place in the business pages – but not splashed over the top of the
      website.

      Furthermore, they did not publish simply an open letter. The “journalist”
      in question published a wrap which could have been dictated by Menatep.
      No attempt to inject balance, background, or any statements critical of
      the Oligarch.

      The fundamental problem is that everyone knows that Khodorkovsky is guilty
      as hell – of massive theft, corruption, and almost certainly murder. Why
      do they defend him. Does it have anything to do with the Menatep billions?
      I generally argue respectfully with persons such as yourself who express
      their sincere convictions – whether or not I agree with them – rather than
      shilling for whoever pays top dollar. For them, I have less patience.

      • Anonymous says:

        I actually think that you should apologise, preferably publicly, to the FT journalist. But since you come from a long tradition of polemicism (I’m familiar with Karl Kraus’s role as the scourge of the Vienna establishment in the late/post-imperial era) you’ll probably want to keep arguing! If you want to the win the argument, though, you shouldn’t undermine your case with ad hominem (or whatever the female equivalent is) attacks.

        • T&B says:

          First of all, you are correct! I do indeed spring from a long line of Krauses, and I imagine my great uncle Karl – whose stature I can never hope to attain – setting down the acerbic pen with which he was chronicling the misdeeds of the Archangels, and smile wanly, to see the torch still carried.

          Back to more terrestrial matters, I would be delighted to apologise to the FT – one of whose journalists has gone quite ballistic – I shall bring roses and chocolates, immediately after they publish their own apology for shilling for a man whom not one of them denies to be a murderer and a thug. Does this not seem quite extraordinary? As one of my correspondents, previous bureau chief of a major publication in Moscow pointed out in his trademark sharp and polemic style, there are innocent victims enough in Russia (I would add “and elsewhere, including in the US/UK”) so that they do not need to make a hero of a gangster.

          The sharpness of my attack strikes me as proportional to the perceived crime. At a certain point, one gets tired of being fed a diet of disinformation – and purposeful disinformation at that.

          I do not hope to “win the argument” I wish to bring attention to the fact that there IS an argument.

          What I find striking is that, rightfully, journalists hold as sacred their right to criticise. Yet in my own experience, outside of the Church I have never encountered a profession as unwilling to accept criticism.
          I think that public debate is an excellent thing.

  9. Mark says:

    A delightful and incisive expose of the Khodorkovsky “mystique”. The boobs who follow him are blind to the fact that he cared nothing for the importation of western values and business practices beyond how they might take him from 16th-richest man in the world to richest, and the cynical corporate raiders who rode his coattails will find another poster-boy soon enough. I was very intrigued to read, on another blog, the view that Khodorkovsky himself was as responsible as anyone for the plummeting of foreign direct investment toward the end of the 90s, owing to his ruthlessness in business. Western companies were afraid of him – now he’s their champion, and a symbol of good governance. You have to laugh, so you won’t scream.

    Again, nice work.

  10. Pingback: The Khordokovsky Trial: Rule by Blackmail « Democratist

  11. Anonymous says:

    RESPONSE TO REMARKS REGARDING T&B, AS PUBLISHED ON RUSSIA: OTHER POINTS OF VIEW:

    My problem with Kraus’s rant against the FT lies in the fact that he KNOWS that Khodorkovsky is guilty and that he has blood on his hands. Kraus himself up as the judge in this matter.

    For example:

    “Khodorkovsky – and especially his lieutenants the vicious “Nezhlin” and Lebedev – were notorious for HIS brutality. The privatization of Apatit alone filled up a medium sized graveyard in the Urals.”

    Of course Nezhlin is Nevzlin. Is Eric saying these lieutenants were more brutal than Khodorkovsky or that they did brutal acts on Khodorkovsky’s behalf? How could he “know?” The first trial included Apatit-related charges, but not one murder. Legal systems are not institutions designed or intended to imprison people we “know” are guilty of things we have not charged.

    What Kraus, who is a very entertaining writer, is saying is that Khodorkovsky is very guilty so put him away. That may be how some systems work, but it is not anyone’s idea of the rule of law. That charade has hurt the public perception of Russia, at least among potential foreign investors.

    One need not be an apologist for Lebedev and Khodorkovsky to decry the abuse of the Russian legal system for the second time in the never-ending Yukos Affair.

    • T&B says:

      Dear Mr. -,

      Thank you for having taken the time to reply to my posting.
      Under other circumstances I think your criticism would be entirely justified.

      “Other circumstances” in this case refers to a world in which every hack working for a publication having a political agenda, and every PR shill paid for by the convicted criminals, was not drawing public judgement on the Russian government, and imputing all manner of motivations to the Kremlin, without regard for the obvious guilt of the accused!
      Where journalists made at least some attempt to inject “balance” into their reporting. Where the obvious guilt of the convicts as regards financial crimes were noted.

      In short, were decent standard of fairness to be applied to the Russian government in coverage by the global media, then it would behoove commentators such as myself to adhere to the standards of fairness that the West claims – but exercises very selectively. If is interesting in this respect that when I find news stories about convicts in the US or the UK, the articles do not systematically begin with statements from the defence making all manner of wild allegations, nor do they close with political comments from foreign countries which are entirely irrelevant and innappropriate in matters of criminal justice.

      As regards the claim that the Khodorkovsky case is relevant to foreign investors, this is obvious nonsense. Khodorkovsky is a case of criminal justice, and while corporate governance and law are still very imperfect, they have (unlike criminal law) improved greatly over the past decade, and more to the point, are far better than many favoured investment destinations in the developing world – in particular China, Indonesia, and much of Latin America. Reports by the American Chamber of Commerce show that the vast majority of foreign direct investors in Russia are making money and intend to increase their exposure to the Russian market. One must assume that, before investing more that $3bn to buy WBD, Pepsico did its due diligence. And as regards public markets, the numbers speak for themselves.

      I have never defended the Russian system of criminal justice, which remains rooted in Soviet practice, and still wants for a root and branch reform.
      The point is simply that there are too many cases where innocent people were unjustly found guilty so that the case of a known gangster should be portrayed as the “litmus test” for Russian justice. The fact that Khodorkovsky was NOT indicted for murder (leaving his head of security to rot in prison, but not the boss!) is an example of this dysfunctionality. Given the extreme centralization of power at Yukos/Menatep, the notion that Nevzlin (whom you seem to agree was a brutal thug) could have carried out a campaign of intimidation and murder without the sanction of his boss is absurd.

      I would remind you that the United States, your own country, is the land of the plea bargain, where the innocent along with the guilty are forced to plead guilty to lesser charges, or risk the medieval sentencing which is often doled out by American courts for crimes far less than those of Khodorkovsky (Madoff: 150 years, Skilling:25 years – both for financial misdeeds).
      In many cases, the charges to which the plead guilty are obviously inappropriate (I.e. They are guilty either of much worse, or of nothing at all!).
      Taking this a bit farther, I would remind you they were never able to get a murder conviction for Al Capone – a fair analogy to Khodorkovsky – and were thus obliged to let him die in jail on tax charges.

  12. minnabruna says:

    I agree with a lot of what you have to say, and worry about based coverage, but for very different reasons. Corruption is a catastrophe for Russia. It is a major reason that people now want to go into government service instead of building and modernizing the economy in business, it it a major reason why so much money leaves the country as soon as it is earned instead of staying and being used to continue to build Russia, it is a major reason that foreigners are reluctant to invest and once the krisiz hit, so many pulled out (those that were willing to invest always saw it as a high risk adventure, never as a safe bet, and now re-attracting investment form Russians and foreigners to help get Russia out of the krisiz is very difficult), and it is a major reason why there is such unrest and discontent in Russia at the moment.

    Khoderkovsky committed serious crimes. He is not in jail for those crimes, but if he were charged only with crimes he committed, he would still be in the middle of a heavy sentence. However…..

    This does not mean his case is unimportant. It is important because of the precedence that it set. Such a blatant political case, ignoring Russian law, sends a message to other people in power that it is OK to do the same in their own interests, I am less worried about Khoderkovsky than I am a businessman who is targeted for his assets, an honest political activist targeting corruption targeted to silence their voice and frighten their supporters, or for one of the very unfortunate who end up jailed and denied medical treatment for completely illegal reasons such as the now-infamous case of Sergei Magnitsky. ‘

    Why, if Khoderkovsky truly deserves punishment for his crimes (and he does), could he not be tried for things that he actually did? Because of corruption. because people with whom he committed them are still paying for their safety, are still in power enjoying the money they stole, and still hurting ordinary Russians by making a system so unfair they have no incentive to break out of a helpless mentality. Trying him on such obviously illegal (according to Russian law) measures only supports such people even more.

    At the same time, I am angry at Western writers who focus on Khoderkovsky as if he truly were a human right’s martyr. They focus on the wrong thing, and hurt the case of people who want the best outcome for Russians. It is not a case of the valiant Khoderkovsky standing up against the cruel, always-evil Russian Federation. making it about that makes it easy to avoid the real, difficult topic, that of corruption (complex stories less interesting to readers, hard to prove, ergo easy to be sued over, often too large an issue to cover in a few columns, sometimes requires incriminating their own powerful people). At the same time focusing on the wrong thing makes it easy for those in the Russian government guilty of weakening their own justice system to defend themselves, instead drumming up support form people such as yourself by focusing on the Western media bias instead of the real problem; what is done to Russians, in Russia, by Russians.

    I love RUssia. I love (some) Russians. I also love even a few Western journalists. This entire argument is flawed, on both sides, and while proving Western journalists to be bad at their job may hurt them a little professionally, or even hurt their feelings. Allowing their bad writing to overlook an issue that is really hurting your country makes Russians like yourself the biggest losers in this case. That is supremely unfair and I hope (but do not expect) that it will change.

  13. Pingback: Hodorkovski je kriv! : Jinov svet

  14. PA says:

    Eric, one other important point about Western media coverage to remember: Mr Putin does not sue for libel in draconian UK courts. Russian oligarchs certainly do, especially the growing number who have relocated to London. That fact alone may explain a lot of what you read (and more importantly, what you don’t read) in UK press.

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