It is left to longer form journalism and academia to stick with a story and make some sense of it.
With the verdict of the Khodorkovsky trial the world’s news crews descended once again on Moscow. Their story was already written. A dissident prosecuted by an oppressive regime for political reasons. An outright defeat for the rule of law and conformation of Russia‘s legal nihilism.
Received wisdom is not entirely inaccurate where the Khodorkovsky case is concerned. There is doubtless a political element to his prosecution.
It is also almost certain that the oligarch is guilty of substantial and serious crimes. When Prime Minister Putin dismisses the furore surrounding the trial, stating, ‘a thief should be in prison’, he is guilty of being highly selective, but his words are not entirely without truth.
There is a serious problem with the consistency of Russian justice, but Khodorkovsky is an unlikely and unconvincing champion of transparency.
The problem, as most commentators see it, is that a clever and articulate critic of Putin was prosecuted. The counter-argument, which is rarely explored, is that too few oligarchs were pursued for their lawlessness, rather than too many.
An attitude of ‘my enemy’s enemy’ skews critiques of the trial and renders many of them hypocritical.
For a counter-blast, I’d once again highlight Keith Gessen’s excellent article in the LRB and the book which it reviews, The Quality of Freedom by Richard Sakwa. The Mark Ames piece highlighted above is also worth a read. There are two sides to this story and the fact that Khodorkovsky is a ‘gentleman thief’ does not render him less of a thief.