October 31, 2003
KHODORKOVSKY ARREST TIED TO PUTIN'S 'AUTHORITARIANISM'
** Russian dailies fear
Khodorkovsky's arrest has eroded the fundamentals of "civil society."
** Western observers decry
Putin's "increasingly authoritarian political system."
** Writers agree the
"war" between Putin and oligarchs will have a chilling effect on
'A choice between democracy and totalitarianism'-- Reformist and business papers in Russia
viewed the arrest of billionaire "oligarch" Mikhail Khodorkovsy as
part of "a campaign to remove the most important and independent players
from the Russian political scene" and labeled it "the worst,
unnecessary political crisis" in President Putin's tenure. Declaring that "rough methods of
resolving conflicts" have become commonplace, reformist Vremya Novostey
said Russian authorities "are not going to try to come to terms" with
opponents, but just "put them away."
Several outlets mused that "a large part" of the Russian
public might be pleased by the arrest because "an oligarch in the slammer
is the average Russian's idea of social justice." Business daily Vedomosti lamented that
Khodorkovsky "was the first to promote transparency" for business
"and the state" but his efforts produced only "black envy."
Putin's 'increasingly authoritarian state'-- Western analysts termed Khodorkovsky's arrest
"a logical continuation" of policies that Putin "and his
intelligence service clan" have followed since taking power. Germany's center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung
held that the "hardliners from the intelligence services" who are
Putin's closest aides "want the long-term safeguarding of political
power." As long as the oligarchs supported
the Kremlin "they were allowed to rake in money" but prosecutors came
calling when they demonstrated political ambitions. The "very serious issue" at stake
is the rule of law in Russia.
Australia's liberal Age stated the arrest exemplified Putin's
"de facto Cold War-type" administration and called it part of a
pattern of "aggressive and extrajudicial actions" by the Kremlin in
Chechnya and elsewhere. An Italian
writer added that the resignation of Putin's chief of staff Alexander Voloshin
in protest over the arrest "signals the magnitude of Russia's political
A 'very detrimental' blow to Russian economy-- Russian writers worried that after the
tycoon's arrest "no serious entrepreneur will risk investing in
Russia." Western editorialists
agreed that the plunge in the Russian stock market after the arrest "was
only the first vote of no-confidence" by investors, adding that "an
all-out war between the oligarchs and the Kremlin" would be a
"serious setback" to Russia's modernization. Too many "blunt, arbitrary
assaults" on Russia's civil institutions "will undermine faith in
Russia's revival." Canada's leading
Globe and Mail noted that only recently have investors shown renewed
interest in Russia. Now, they fear Putin
and his associates "are reverting to their KGB roots." Another Canadian allowed that Russia's
transition has been "difficult," but contended that Putin's first
task now should be to "sponsor legislation to set the rules" for the
country's new economy.
EDITOR: Steven Wangsness
EDITOR'S NOTE: This
analysis is based on 42 reports from 8 countries, October 27-31, 2003. Editorial excerpts from each country are
listed from the most recent date.
Like Strong, Stable Power"
Andrey Sedov stated in reformist youth-oriented Komsomol'skaya
Pravda (10/31): "An oligarch
'providing for' both the Right and Left does not support political allies but
rather strives for political power in Russia.
This is against the rules. More
importantly, the Kremlin is seriously concerned over a nascent alliance between
Khodorkovsky's empire and America's MobilExxon.
Their merger, according to some analysts, may pose a danger to national
security--Russia's energy industry may become heavily dependent on our U.S.
partners. By launching a campaign
against Yukos, the Kremlin, acting clumsily, is trying to thwart that
deal.... It turns out that Khodorkovsky
has many advocates within and without.
Why? Why would they care? Just imagine for a minute the U.S. police
arresting the owner of some Bank of New York and causing the Russian ambassador
to the United States and an official of the Putin administration to make a
strong statement that doing this to an absolutely honest person is an
outrage.... The Khodorkovsky arrest won't
scare Western tycoons. Quite the
contrary, it makes them even more determined to invest. To a businessman, three things matter
most. They are profit, reliability, and
security. Doing business in Russia
brings higher dividends than in the United States and Europe.... Investors like countries with strong and
stable governments. The Russian
president not bowing to oligarchs is exactly what they need.... The Russian economy will not crash, not even
all oligarchs end up in prison or flee the country, and the shares of their
companies become scrap paper. Siberia
will continue to pump oil, Magadan mine gold, and the Volga region grow
grain. The world prices for gas, oil and
metal will hardly plummet either."
"Methods That Make Flesh Creep"
New-communist weekly Slovo editorialized (10/31): "In the ongoing dispute, we are on
Putin's side, especially because of the illegitimate origin of the oligarchs'
fortunes. Even so, it makes your flesh
creep to hear about the methods the police used to capture the leader of the
country's biggest company and put him in prison."
"Voter Must Become Arbiter"
Business-oriented Vedomosti editorialized (10/30): "A selective approach to 'criminals'
means that others may come next after 'the wolf digests its victim.' This will happen if business does not protect
itself. A ban on revising privatization
results and a tax amnesty may be part of that protection in the short
term. In the longer term, it is
essential that no one should depend on someone else's will or mood and that the
system should be competitive. The voter
must be an arbiter. As things are going,
fundamental principles like the inviolability of property, the universal use of
law, and the independence of public institutions have become subject to
questioning.... Is opposition possible
in Russia? It is hard to answer this
question because a real opposition must of necessity have at least two
qualities that none of the existing opposition forces have. One, it must have leaders. The current leaders know more about
cooperating with the authorities and drawing dividends from it than about
acting on their own and competing with those behind the throne. Two, opposition must have independent
funding. How safe is it for business to
try to defend its right to finance (political) parties? Now is the time to think of those
"What's Behind Yukos Story?"
Maksim Sokolov remarked in reformist Izvestiya
(10/30): "The only way for the
supreme power to explain the Yukos story is to refer to an absolute necessity
that made it use so dubious methods. But
to do so, it should openly state its supreme will instead of hiding behind
[Prosecutor General] Ustinov's back."
"Back In A Black-And-White Country"
Semyon Novoprudskiy commented in reformist Izvestiya
(10/29): "The Mikhail Khodorkovsky
arrest and Vladimir Putin's reaction to it have gotten all of us back in a
black-and-white country, a country that has swung to the Left. There is no longer a political 'center' or
'truth in the middle' in Russia. Ours is
again a choice between democracy and totalitarianism, between civil liberties
and arbitrariness, between the market economy and the command economy.... As things are going, this is the last chance
for the Russian Rightists to salvage democracy and, by extension,
themselves.... Nobody says that oligarchic
capitalism, with the state respecting the basic civil freedoms, is the best and
fairest of social systems. But in a
country where small business is weak and very few people are truly involved in
the economy, crushing big capital is bound to lead to mass violence. The trouble with the way the authorities have
been acting lately is not a threat to the investment climate or Russia's
political image, not even the danger of reviewing the results of
privatization. It is the utter
irresponsibility of the powers that be....
True, all are equal before the law.
But a political contract for removing political opponents has nothing to
do with the supremacy of the law.
Responsible power has a privilege to set rules and do so through the
law. But responsible power has no
privilege to flout those rules. Power
and business must become partners.... If
power and business should become enemies, we all would suffer."
"We Have No Civil Society"
Anton Orekh of Radio Echo of Moscow wrote in centrist Nezavisimaya
Gazeta (10/29): "Using economic
matters to settle political disputes is bad enough. But the fact that nobody cares is even
worse. With the hatred of the 'rich and
famous' common in this country, the authorities have been using this sentiment
for their political ends. This is the
way our 'civil society' is. The truth is
that we have no civil society."
Kirill Rogov remarked in business-oriented Vedomosti
(10/29): "Similar stories involving
Berezovskiy and Gusinskiy marked Vladimir Putin's early presidency. Then the pubic, aware of Putin using economic
issues and law-enforcement as a way to reach his political aims, split. Part of it, primarily the business community,
accepted his policy, thinking it was necessary to achieve political
stability. But the fact that Putin's
first term as president is ending on exactly the same note makes all the
difference. It turns out that 'political
stability' is a beast that, not satisfied with what sacrifices have been made
to it, demands more offerings.... There were hopes that Putin was on a historic
mission to legalize business and the state.
Sadly, the Khodorkovsky case has dashed those hopes. The old 'procuracy'...is still pointing a
threatening fat finger at business trying to prove its illegitimacy, while
society is responding by pointing to the illegitimacy of the state...with
Vladimir Putin no longer seen as an arbiter in this dispute."
Oleg Shevtsov contended in reformist youth-oriented Komsomol'skaya
Pravda (10/29): "It looks as if
our allies overseas have been in earnest in the past few years, concerned over
the rule of law in Russia. At least they
seem to think that a ruling by a Moscow court to detain Mikhail Khodorkovsky is
far more important than death sentences in Texas. Curiously, France, Italy, Japan and other
countries regularly send their business shoguns to prison for violating the
law. Washington keeps silent when they
do. Which is all right, as long as cases
like those are an internal matter of a sovereign state. So why try to apply their 'approved (or
disapproved) by U.S. administration' stamp to whatever Russia does? To follow that logic, the Russian government
might just as well censure Washington for forcibly dividing Bill Gates'
property under the Supreme Court's decision or for the scandal over Enron's
bankruptcy. It might but, as we see it,
sticking our nose in where it does not belong is not nice."
Nikolai Vardul commented in reformist business-oriented Kommersant
(10/28): "The signal that the
business community and all of society got yesterday was more like a command,
'Dress! Attention! Cut out all blabber!
The public, at least much of it, may be pleased--an oligarch in a
slammer is the average Russian's idea of social justice. But the economy definitely doesn't like
it. Incidentally, Putin, as he was
speaking, was addressing government officials as well as businesspeople. Basically, he said that the purge may spread
to civil servants."
"Investing In Russia Is Risky"
Reformist youth-oriented Moskovskiy Komsomolets
editorialized (10/28): "Clearly,
the Yukos case will untie the hands of the hungry-for-money law-enforcement
agencies in the provinces. Generals will
raid big business, and sergeants small business. Under the circumstances, no serious
entrepreneur will risk investing in Russia.
There is no way we can do without foreign investments. To bring Russia up at least to the level of
Eastern European countries, we need a whopping $600 billion, according to
experts. As we focus on petty things
like replacing unwanted oligarchs, we neglect big ones. But who cares? With Russia, politics has always prevailed
over the economy." reformist youth-oriented
"This Is No Way To Integrate Into The West"
Liliya Shevtsova observed in reformist weekly Moskovskiye
Novosti (10/28): "Evidently,
the Western leaders have convinced themselves that a semi-authoritarian regime
will sooner or later help Russia find a road to liberal democracy. But the latest events in this country make
the West wonder.... President Putin, who
is clearly striving for an equal status in the Big Eight, may be receptive to
his colleagues' advice. So far, the way
his friends--Bush, Blair, and Schroeder--have been acting gives him cause to
believe that the omnipotent bureaucracy and police are no obstacle to Russia's
integration with the West. His Western
colleagues would do Russia a big favor by telling Putin that he can't integrate
into the West by sending the owner of one of the most successful companies to
prison. The challenge that Russia and
its leader are facing today is how to get away from oligarchic capitalism,
without falling into the trap of a police free-for-all. The West can make that choice easier or
"A Coup In The Kremlin"
Nikolai Vardul commented in reformist
business-oriented Kommersant (10/27):
"The Khodorkovsky case is political for obvious reasons. All agree that, if need be, you can find
irregularities practically in every business deal that was made six to ten
years ago, especially if it had to do with privatization. Aleksandr Voloshin, the head of the
presidential administration, visiting in Baku on September 16, spoke about the
confusing and contradictory legislation in the mid-1990s. But of all the big companies in Russia that
are owned by 'oligarchs,' Yukos, a pioneer of self-cleansing in Russian
business, is the only one the authorities have been picking on. Selectivity in applying the law is
illegal.... Aleksandr Voloshin has been
known to support Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
With Khodorkovsky arrested as a political opponent, Mr. Voloshin must be
the next one to go into exile, if not to prison."
"The Rubicon Crossed"
Ivan Gordeyev stated in reformist Vremya
Novostey (10/27): "The arrest
of Khodorkovsky, one of few figures whose names have become something of a cult
in Russian business, means that the authorities have decided to cross the
Rubicon in their relations with business and society. It is not the accusations leveled at this
country's richest man--you may well use them against other, not so rich
entrepreneurs. It is not even the oil
tycoon's excessive political ambitions, a charge that has not been made
official. It is that the authorities are
not going to try to come to terms with anyone, not even with this country's
biggest and most influential personalities.
They will just put them away.
Rough methods of resolving conflicts have become natural and
justified. Our leading lawyers, as they
complain about actions by the General Prosecutor's Office, might just as well
save their breath--it is not the prosecutors but the approach that they have
chosen. Making excuses and references to
the unpopularity of the rich won't help either.
Russia's greatest asset, its most active citizens, are likely to see the
change of course as authorized by the president."
"It's Not Why. It's Who's Next"
Maksim Glikin stated in centrist Nezavisimaya
Gazeta (10/27): "A campaign to
remove the most important and independent players from the Russian political
and economic scene goes on. The fight
against big business did not end with exiling Vladimir Gusinskiy and Boris
Berezovskiy. 'Equidistancing' the
oligarchs is becoming permanent and increasingly rough. No doubt, Khodorkovsky, just like others
before him, has had to pay for his political activity and open support for the
left- and right-wing opposition. That
does not mean, however, that other prominent members of the Russian business
elite may sleep at rest. Who's
next? This question is in the minds of
ever more of them."
Aleksandr Budberg mused in reformist
youth-oriented Moskovskiy Komsomolets (10/27): "It's common knowledge that whatever
really big political trouble Russia gets into happens in October. Passing the beginning of a half-year of cold
and dark without great upheavals is a stroke of good luck. Of course, the Great October Socialist
Revolution the Khodorkovsky arrest is not.
But there is always the last straw.
This arrest is the worst, unnecessary political crisis in Vladimir
Putin's presidency. As recently as last
Friday we were still moving forward. Now
we are at a standstill and will apparently stay so for a long time, trying to
find out what has happened and looking for a way out of this mess. The country faces a nasty political crisis,
one that is absolutely unnecessary, that it might easily have done without, and
that has no simple or quick way out. But
through it, we will finally know whether Russia has accepted the great change
of the 1990s or perhaps it will get back to the well-trodden road of no freedom
and prosperity, the road of envy and stagnation."
"Business Before The Election"
Business-oriented Vedomosti held
(10/27): "The actions of those who
sell their Russian assets and move to other countries is a perfectly adequate
response from the standpoint of the personal safety and future of their
children. They understand all too well the unspoken language of signals and
respond in the same language. After
making their money in Russia, where the concepts of the state-oligarchy
community are in effect, they move to countries where there are laws. One defect to this response is that Russia is
losing both people and money and a great deal for itself in the future.... To judge from its actions, however, it seems
that the security structures' goal is to drive out genuinely strong
people. This reinforces the country's
status as a Klondike, where you make money only to then run away as far as
possible from the lawlessness....
Khodorkovsky was the first to set the example of transparency both for
his colleagues and for the state, which did not interpret his step quite the
way he had hoped.... As a result, the
country got its first legal billionaires, but all this provoked was black
envy. And Khodorkovsky's aspiration to
start an open political project to compete with the sole main one, made them
use force. There are two options for
thinking members of the business community: leaving the country or embarking on
the hard path of creating a new political entity. They might start by openly stating the kind
of country they want, one of 'strength structures' or one of strong people. The attitude toward politics as lobbying
industry and group interests must change.
There is a need to restore demand for democratic values, pluralism and
the presumption of innocence, which have depreciated lately."
BRITAIN: "Putin Should
The left-of-center Guardian took this
view (Internet version, 10/28):
"Russia's president Vladimir Putin would like to be seen as a
democrat on the world stage.... A pity
then that his acts sometimes resemble those of a modern day tsar, ruthlessly
determined to quash opponents.... Russia
is becoming richer and attracting the interest of foreign investors. Yet too many blunt, arbitrary assaults on the
country's institutions and civil society will undermine faith in Russia's
revival. Certainly the campaign against
the Russian billionaire, Mikhail Khodorkovsky...appears to be motivated by
extra-judicial concerns.... The ferocity
of the offensive is an indication that Mr. Khodorkovsky had strayed too far
into the political realm.... What should
not be a surprise, however, is how popular such an act will be. Russia's new money has not trickled down to
the masses. The anger directed at a
clutch of former managers who became billionaires overnight...lingers in the
country's body politic.... This is no
mere dispute between factions and interest groups in Moscow.... It is in everyone's interest that Russia's
future is a bright one. Mr. Putin has
done his country a service by recognizing reform cannot take place without
re-establishing the state. But he must
not fill the void with bad governance."
"Taming Russia's Ambitious Oligarchs"
The independent Financial Times commented
(10/28): "The arrest of Mikhail
Khodorkovsky...is the latest development in the dramatic power struggle between
Mr. Khodorkovsky and President Vladimir Putin.
At one level, it is a battle between two ambitious men. At another, it is a fight over Russia's
political and economic future.... The
conflict highlights how hard it is to build genuine democracy in Russia. Under Mr. Putin, political control has become
concentrated in the Kremlin and the security services. Economic power has also flowed into fewer
hands through consolidation.... The
space left for independent institutions, including the media and the courts,
has shrunk dramatically. Mr.
Khodorkovsky casts himself as the defender of liberal freedoms.... But his position as a business
oligarch...overshadow everything else about him. Ordinary Russians do not trust him. However, Mr. Putin and the security
establishment present a greater threat to liberal democracy. Ultimately, the state has unlimited force at
its disposal. Using it to arrest a
businessman...smacks dangerously of authoritarianism.... Mr. Putin was right to break up the kitchen
cabinet of oligarchs that he inherited from Boris Yeltsin. But he is wrong to insist that the oligarchs
have no right to play a role in public politics and it is even more wrong for
Russia's law enforcement agencies to be used to destroy all possible political
"The Limits Of Oligarchy"
The conservative Daily Telegraph
editorialized (Internet version, 10/27):
"Anybody who thinks Russia is a modern, liberal democracy got a
nasty shock [with the arrest of] Mikhail Khodorkovsky.... This being Russia, the fact that it is only a
month before a parliamentary election and he is the principle backer of two
opposition parties is unlikely to be a coincidence. What happens now could determine whether
Russia is ready to join the club of serious, grown-up countries, or will
descend once again into the lawlessness for which it is infamous.... Recently, the president's associates have
been turning up the heat on Mr. Khodorkovsky and his fellow oligarchs.... But Mr. Khodorkovsky's arrest is not just a
simple matter of harassment. When
Vladimir Putin was elected in 2000, he in effect did a deal with the
oligarchs.... He would leave them alone
as long as they behaved themselves and did not challenge his authority.... Now that truce is no more. In the West, the worry is this will lead to
all out war between the Kremlin and the oligarchs. Not only would that jeopardize the booming
Russian economy...it would also be a serious setback to Russia's
modernization. A destabilized Russia
would be a tragedy for its people. But
it would be serious for us, too.... We
could lose a vital, if imperfect ally in the war on terror. President Putin...should rein in his more
paranoid friends in the security services.
As for the oligarchs, they must realize that, in a democracy, only an
elected government can exercise real power."
"Crimes Without Punishment"
The conservative Times held (10/27): "If the Russian people had been cut into
the new economic order, with a fair privatization program that gave the common
man clout, capitalist Russia might have become a more clearly democratic
place.... Russia has become safer since
then--but not for the very rich.
President Yeltsin, complaisant godfather of the half-dozen richest
'oligarchs,' has given way to the sterner President Putin. He quickly signaled that he would destroy the
oligarchs 'as a class'--but, until recently, limited himself to picking on the
two billionaires with media empires that disagreed with the Government’s
political line. But wealth brings too
much power to allow any billionaire permanent invisibility.... Mr. Khodorkovsky has emphasized corporate
accountability. He now pays taxes and
dividends, gives to charity, and publishes comparatively transparent
accounts. So government probes in recent
months into Mr. Khodorkovsky’s business, and his arrest at the weekend, have
alarmed the increasingly respectable Russian business world. Mr. Putin might feel threatened by the
potential use of wealth to buy political influence; but he, like the oligarchs
he fears, has a profound responsibility to be accountable."
"Crisis In The Kremlin"
Right-of-center Le Figaro remarked (10/30): "The shockwave of the Russian political
crisis is finally reaching the Kremlin.
Voloshin's... resignation signals the magnitude of Russia's political upheaval...[and
signals] an important shift in the Kremlin's balance of power. The resignation would consecrate the victory
of Putin's faithfuls, the 'Silovikis', over Eltsin's former 'family.' According to some, this would be the
equivalent of a 'political coup.'"
Moscow correspondent Markus Wehner had this to say in center-right
Frankfurter Allgemeine (10/31):
"Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest will change the political and
economic landscape in Russia. The shock
sits deep with which the stock market has reacted to the arrest.... Putin's phrase that the Prosecutor-General
knows what it does sounds like mockery for everyone who knows about the past
activities of Russia's justice authorities....
According to Putin's recipe, Russia can grow only if the market economy
is closely linked to political stability.
But in his eyes, this stability can be safeguarded only by an
authoritarian, centralist rule.... It
is still uncertain how the Yukos affair will develop and what effect it will
have on Russia's economy...but the flight of capital of Russian investors has
begun again and some international companies have reversed their planned
investment in Russia."
"Russia's Grip For Oil"
Gerd Zitzelsberger argued in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung
of Munich (10/31): "Much more is
involved than how the Russian justice authorities deal with a dubious
billionaire. And even more is involved
than how the Putin clan chases away the clan of former president Yeltsin from
the 'meat pots.' From a western point of
view, the Khodorkovsky affair centers mainly how Russia will deal with its
natural resources in the future.... The
grip of the Russian government on natural resources will intensify. There are a variety of instruments to do
this. The profits from Yukos and others
were too tempting. But the outrage over
Khodorkovsky and other oligarchs in the public is now nurturing the ground for
a populist economic policy."
"Policy Of Weakness"
Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg
judged (10/31): "The power struggle
between Oligarch Khodorkovsky and President Putin is taking on increasingly
disruptive characteristics.... Putin
could not have acted more amateurishly....
He brutally implemented his goals by ignoring the effects on the global
public and the finance markets.... The
Russian president must now hope that investors, in view of the prospering economy...will
return. But all this cannot be
interpreted as a policy of strength.
Despite the upcoming victory in the Duma elections, Putin is too weak to
win the struggle against the oligarchs....
That is why Putin needs the support of intelligence service people. In order to get them, he is now risking
Russia's prosperity and the confidence of the international community."
"Fight For The Kremlin"
Moscow correspondent Tomas Avenarius filed the following editorial
for center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (10/30): "President Putin has every reason to be
in a bad mood. If he signs Alexander
Voloshin's dismissal certificate...the power balance between the liberal economic
'robber capitalists' on the one side and the authoritarian intelligence faction
in the Kremlin on the other would be lost....
Since Putin took power in 2000, post-Soviet Russia has been increasingly
taking the form of an authoritarian state....
It is clear that a state in which intelligence service members occupy
influential economic and political key positions, cannot be a liberal
state. Such a development would mean for
Russia that it will not resolutely develop not even in the 21st
century.... Is this the state, which the
alleged 'reformer of the century' Putin wants?... He either drafted a plan for a cold coup with
his former colleagues from the intelligence services, and then he has
succeeded. Or he is unable to balance
power and has now, because of his own weakness, put his fate into the hands of
the intelligence people. Then he would
suffer a historic defeat."
"Putin Losing Balance"
Dietmar Bartz noted in an editorial in leftist die tageszeitung
of Berlin (10/30): "Alexander
Voloshin's resignation can be embedded into a simple model: politics won over
the economy. The Kremlin chief of staff
was the most important supporter of Russian industrialist Mikhail
Khodorkovsky. If he really quits, the 'authoritarians'
will have won over the 'liberals,' the Putin people over Yeltsin aides, the
people from St. Petersburg over the people from Moscow.... But with Voloshin's departure, the
complicated balance between these two factions will also collapse. Putin will no longer play the two groups off
against each other, but, following the parliament, the regional leaders, and
the media, Putin will now also have 'homogenized' the government
apparatus.... By doing so, Putin is
continuing a horrible characteristic of Soviet history. Putin will lose an enormous political
latitude toward his apparatus, since he and his party supporters will now be
inseparably connected. This means that
the times are getting even worse for those who are opposed to the omnipresence
of the state."
Left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau editorialized
(10/29): "The election of some
oligarchs or their representatives to the Duma and to governorships did not
disrupt the consensus set up by Putin as long as it was regionally
limited. The financing of opposition
forces was the problem. Khodorkovsky
committed this sin less because of his personal ambitions but rather based on
the logic of his economic power. This
power considerably increased through the merger of his Yukos company with
Sibneft. Putin's team saw a double
threat by an economic colossus that became active in an unpleasant way not only
in their field of business but also on the level of civil society."
"Putin's Intelligence Service Clan"
Centrist Mitteldeutsche Zeitung of Halle observed
(10/29): "Khodorkovsky's arrest is
the logical continuation of a policy that Putin and the members of the
intelligence service clan have pursued since they moved to the Kremlin. Masked FSB combat forces, which arrested
Khodorkovsky, are nothing new under Putin.
They were already allowed in April 2001 to storm the relatively
independent TV station NTW. The past
year also showed that the intelligence service clan won the power struggle long
before Khodorkovsky's arrest. In the
drama over the Northeast Theater, Putin immediately backed the suggestion of
the intelligence service for a quick violent solution. In Chechnya, too, Putin and the FSB inner
circle are still pinning their hopes on the use of force to resolve
"Risks For Putin"
Center-right Maerkische Oderzeitung of Frankfurt on the
Oder noted (10/29): "Putin's course
has considerable risks. If the
privatizations of the 90s are really be reversed, chaos and anarchy are
looming. How does the president want to
react to it? With a military
dictatorship? By deporting the nouveaux
riche to other countries? Oligarchs
Berezowski and Gussinsky are already there.
Khodorkovsky did not want to go. That is why he is now in prison."
"Death Of Capitalism"
Business daily Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf concluded (10/28): "The West must openly say what it
thinks, since the survival of democracy and market economy in Russia is at
issue. The plunge of Russian stocks and
bonds was only the first vote of no-confidence of investors in Russia and other
countries of Putin's policy. Now his
friends Schroeder, Blair, and Bush must openly tell their buddy in the Kremlin
what they think of his policy, that they want Russia only as a partner if the
vast empire returns to the path of democracy and freedom. But the Europeans and Americans should not
allow anybody to divide them again when they compete for Russian gas and
oil. Clear conditions must be set for
Russia to avoid the things the daily Izvestia wrote yesterday: 'Capitalism died for the second time in
Russia...with the arrest of model entrepreneur Khodorkovsky."
Berthold Kohler argued in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine
(10/28): "The losses at Moscow's
stock market are based not only on the anxious question of who should lead the
Yukos oil company as long as Khodorkovsky has no Internet connection in his
prison cell. The enormous flight of
capital is mainly driven by the fear that Russia's economy cannot develop as
freely as it appeared. An equation mark
still stands between economic and political power. Nobody but President Putin knows this better,
and he also became president with the support of the oligarchs' funds. In return, this state refrained from opening
the chapter of privatizations again.
Since then, rules seem to be in effect in Russia that everybody can earn
as much money as he wants as long as he confines his activities to becoming
wealthy and does not try to shake off the control of the state, for Putin, like
Lenin, does not believe in the power of confidence."
Horst Klaeuser commented on regional radio station Westdeutscher
Rundfunk of Cologne (10/27): "After
oil tycoon Khodorkovsky's arrest, peace [between the oligarchs] and President
Putin has been broken and a 'war' between capital and Kremlin is
inevitable. The attitude of the young
capitalist entrepreneur and the Kremlin leadership that is acting increasingly
autocratic, shows that Russia is by no means an open economic nation. The
control of the powers-that-be of courts, prosecutors, and intelligence services
is obvious. The filling of high-ranking
positions in the government with agents and soldiers shows how serious Putin is
about the 'dictatorship of democracy'....
The fact that one month before the Duma elections and five months before
Putin's probable re-election...the Kremlin is getting nervous is not a good
omen. Four years ago, it was the tough
action in the Chechen war with which the young president scored points in the
election campaign. Today, he considers
it popularly correct right to attack the wealthy--probably to conceal the fact
that rampant poverty and the enormous differences in income are not caused by
the oligarchs but by the bureaucratic, inflexible policy of the old guard. Despite all promises, Moscow will not be
allowed to become a partner of the West with such a policy."
"The Oligarch Loser Showdown "
Tomas Avenarius asserted in center-left Sueddeutsche
Zeitung of Munich (10/27):
"Mikhail Khodorkovsky was not afraid of a showdown [with President
Putin]--he only came off worst, and the Kremlin does not give a damn about the
fact that this arrest is very detrimental to Russia's economy. The hardliners from the intelligence
services, who are among Putin's closest aides, want the long-term safeguarding
of political power. They are hardly
interested in reversing Russia's privatization, since they are well-profiting
from it. But this is the problem. In Russia, 17 billionaires are confronted
with 40 million people living below the poverty level. The question is whether those who became rich
at the expense of society will also do something for society in the form of a
'oligarch tax' or [by setting up] a fund for education. The fact that this is not a matter of
discussion shows that nobody is interested in the legitimation of
privatization. As long as the oligarchs
support parties that supported the Kremlin's policy, they were allowed to rake
in money. But those who demonstrate
political ambitions are summoned by prosecutors. These are the rules of the game of reformer
Manfred Quiring judged in right-of-center Die
Welt of Berlin (10/27): "It was
a demonstration of power that the Russian security forces, including the
intelligence forces, showed over the weekend.... If the situation were not that serious, we
could laugh at the operation of tough intelligence officials in order to arrest
an individual. But the situation is
serious, since the issue is the state of the Russian rule of law.... There are thousands of wealthy Russians in
Vladimir Putin's empire. But [security
officials] focus their attention on those people only if there are conflicting
interests with the powers-that-be. In
the Khodorkovsky case, it was the political ambitions of the young billionaire
that disrupted the Kremlin's circles.
His attempt to support left and right-wing opposition parties and turn
them into a counter force to the Duma was a gesture of lesè majesté and
deserved to be punished.... This makes
clear one thing: Russia is still far
away from a democratic state."
"Russia, The Kremlin’s Final Attack Against The Oligarchs"
Fabrizio Dragosei wrote in centrist,
top-circulation Corriere della Sera (10/31): “There is an all out war for the top
government positions in Russia.... The
country’s biggest company...is now in a state of suspension: shares can neither
be sold nor transferred. And this signal
greatly worries the markets, given that Yukos was among the most transparent of
Russian companies and it had attracted the interest of foreign investors.”
Elite, classical daily Il Foglio
commented (10/30): “The resignation of
the Kremlin’s Chief of Staff Aleksandr Voloshin is proof of a divorce that has
been in the air for a long time. There
was talk of it since last year.... The
equilibrium between the two souls of the Kremlin had lasted for a long time. It ended with the arrest of the oil magnate
"Moscow, Another Point For The ‘Hawks’"
Leading business daily Il Sole-24 Ore noted (10/30): “Vladimir Putin has allegedly already
accepted the resignation of his Chief of Staff Aleksandr Voloshin.... The team of political advisers that Putin
inherited from his predecessors could leave the Kremlin with Voloshin.”
"Kremlin Does Not Like The Independent"
Waclaw Radziwinowicz wrote in liberal Gazeta
Wyborcza (10/27): “Whatever
Khodorkovsky may have on his conscience, he has become, as Russians say, the
cleanest oligarch. As the head of
Russia’s biggest oil company, he was the first to recognize that the future is
not business made ‘the Russian way’
(that is, based on good connections with bureaucrats), but business that is
open and transparent.... Khodorkovsky would
not bow and scrape. He became
self-assured, as if he lived in a normal country. But the Russian authorities do not like those
who are independent, not to mention those who do not share with the authorities
themselves. That is why the chief of
Yukos has become their victim.”
"Not The First One, Not The Last One"
Slawomir Popowski wrote in centrist Rzeczpospolita
(10/27): “The reason behind the arrest
of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the richest man in Russia, is exactly the same as in
the case of Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky--money and power. Coming to power together with Putin was a
completely new generation of people--largely connected with special services
and power structures--who have everything except capital.... The second reason is politics. When Putin assumed power, a sort of agreement
was made with the oligarchs: they were to do business and stay away from
politics. In the opinion of the Kremlin,
the head of Yukos broke this rule. Not
only has he refused to give money to the pro-Kremlin Jedinstvo, but he also
started to speak publicly about politics, and supported financially the liberal
opposition. He refused to behave as the
authorities dictate, and showed resistance--which struck at the very foundation
of the increasingly authoritarian political system being built around Putin.”
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
"The Tsarist World Of Vladimir Putin"
Bruce Jackson wrote in the liberal Age of
Melbourne (Internet version, 10/30):
"The 'crimes' of Khodorkovsky are considerable in the eyes of the
new regime of former KGB officers who now surround President Vladimir Putin.... But the real charge behind the arrest
contains much more. This has been a year
in which independent media and business owners in Russia have been put out of
business by the strong-arm tactics of the newly vigilant Federal Security
Service.... In a climate that
progressive Russian business people compare with the fearful 1950s,
Khodorkovsky made the fatal mistake of expressing political opinions and having
the temerity to provide financial support to opposition parties.... In the increasingly tsarist world of Putin,
Khodorkovsky had the additional misfortune of being the last surviving
oligarch. 'Oligarch' is a term of art
for 'rich Jews' who made their money in the massive privatization of Soviet
assets in the early 1990s.... Since
Putin was elected President in 2000, every major figure exiled or arrested for
financial crimes has been Jewish.... The
implications of Khodorkovsky's arrest go beyond the suppression of democratic
voices and the return of official anti-Semitism. This arrest must be seen in the context of
increasingly aggressive and extrajudicial actions in Ukraine, Moldova, the
South Caucasus and Chechnya. There has
been a massive suppression of human rights and the imposition of a de facto
Cold War-type administration in Moscow.
It is not too soon to wonder if we are witnessing the formal beginning
of a rollback of the democratic gains we have seen since the fall of the Berlin
Wall in 1989."
The leading Globe and Mail editorialized (Internet version,
10/29): "Foreign investors have
long worried about Russia's commitment to an open economy, free markets and the
democratic reforms needed to keep them that way...and only recently has Russia
started to emerge from their bad books....
But confidence is a fragile thing, as Russian President Vladimir Putin
has learned after the weekend arrest of Mr. Khodorkovsky.... Now investors fear Mr. Putin and his close
associates are reverting to their KGB roots to throttle opposition
voices.... There can be no doubt it was
the tycoon's prominent financing of liberal opposition parties in advance of
the crucial Dec. 7 parliamentary elections--as well as fears about his own
growing political ambitions--that precipitated a lengthy investigation into his
affairs, the jailing of a key ally without charges and his own subsequent
arrest. Mr. Putin, who faces the
electorate himself next March, knows full well that the business oligarchs are
deeply disliked...at a time when ordinary Russians are struggling to put food
on the table.... Unlike those who have
retreated from the political limelight or who still have friends inside the
Kremlin, Mr. Khodorkovsky is an easy target for intimidation. And that's why there is good reason to worry
about what appears to be a dangerous detour on the road to democracy."
"Rule Of Law Best Way To Fight Russia's
The conservative Montreal Gazette
observed (Internet version, 10/28):
"In this one arrest can be seen all the mistakes Russian leadership
has made--and continues to make--since the fall of Communism in 1989. Chief among these has been the failure to
establish the rule of law, the essential underpinning for the stability of both
government and the economy.... That it
is Khodorkovsky who has been arrested has suggested to observers around the
world that Putin cannot shake off his KGB instincts--once a Stalinist, always a
Stalinist.... In the United States,
excesses [of 19th century robber barons ]were slowly corrected through the rule
of law.... More than a decade has passed
since Russia lurched into the modern world, after centuries of
authoritarianism. Nobody disputes that
this was a difficult transition. But
Putin is not helping the process by singling out his political opponents for
legal prosecution. He should instead
first sponsor legislation to set the rules in Russia's new capitalistic
economy.... Until those things happen,
Putin's pretense of judicial impartiality is a bad joke."