2 years, 11 months ago
Despite criticism from the U.S. and an appeal on Friday by Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s lawyers, it appears the former head of the Yukos Oil Company will spend as much time in the Gulag as many Stalin-era political prisoners. His sentence of 13.5 years for fraud means that he will not be a free man until 2017, if then. The presiding judge in the case said that correcting Khodorkovsky would only be possible if he was isolated from society.
In fact, however, the Putin regime is not concerned about correcting Khodorkovsky. The arrest and sentencing of Khodorkovsky made it possible to complete the transformation of Russia into a controlled society with a permanent political leadership and a president for life (Putin). It is for this reason that Putin not only hates Khodorkovsky but, to a degree, fears him. Putin cannot abide the implicit challenge that Khodorkovsky at liberty would represent.
When the Soviet Union fell, almost all property in Russia was in the hands of the state. This meant that it was controlled by government bureaucrats. At the same time, only criminal elements and those who had benefited from the connections to the authorities during the perestroika period and were able to start their own businesses had money to buy it. Khodorkovsky, a young communist league (komsomol) activist, was in the latter category. Like other nascent “capitalists,” Khodorkovsky benefited from corrupt ties to government officials to amass phenomenal wealth. Khodorkovsky acquired the Yukos Oil Company under the “loans for shares” program in which the government mortgaged the crown jewels of Russian industry in return for loans that it was clear would not be repaid. Khodorkovsky’s bank, Menatep, was put in charge of the auction of Yukos which controlled 2 per cent of the world’s oil reserves. It acted to eliminate all competitive bidding and Khodorkovsky purchased the company for $159 million, $9 million above the starting price. In 2003, the value of Yukos was estimated at $15 billion.
Unlike the other Russian oligarchs, who amassed wealth in similar ways, however, Khodorkovsky realized that the Russian rules of gangster capitalism had to change if Russia was ever to be a civilized country and he took steps to transform Yukos into a modern Western company. He declared his income and introduced Western standards of accounting and governance. He also began to exercise the rights of a Western businessman, including the right to finance opposition political parties. It was this that set him on a collision course with Putin.
When Putin took power as Yeltsin’s hand picked successor, his first priority was to protect the lives and property of the members of the corrupt Yeltsin oligarchy. Putin, however, changed the rules of the game in one important respect. He was ready to allow the oligarchs to enjoy the fruits of their misdeeds as long as they did not intervene in politics. Putin was to rule alone, without opposition, and the wealth acquired through dishonest means during the Yeltsin era was to be placed exclusively at the disposal of the Putin regime.
From Putin’s perspective, there was never to be any such thing as Russian democracy. It isn’t just that it’s now dead. It was stillborn from the beginning. Our ratification of the New START treaty reflects a stolid and dense understanding of world affairs.
It bought us nothing. Russia hasn’t exactly cooperated with respect to inspections anyway, so that argument fails. It restricts the number of nuclear weapons for both Russia and the U.S., but Russia is bankrupt and wouldn’t pursue such an expansionist program anyway. On the other hand, it does indeed restrict our ability and freedom to develop defensive weapons, and it makes irrelevant the DoD recommendations to pursue the reliable replacement warhead program (and even continue to develop nuclear weapons technology). Thus is takes a situation of superiority for the U.S. and makes it parity.
Russia fought our attempts to secure the Manas air base for logistics to Afghanistan, and they are even now attempting to reduce our influence in Tajikistan. They want the U.S. to sell them weapons, but demand that we refrain from aiding Georgia in her fight against Russian hegemony while they also sell weapons to Syria, that apparatchik of Iran.
Returning to New START, Russia is no friend or ally of the U.S. Mr. Obama read a biography of Ronald Reagan while vacationing in Hawaii. Under START when Reagan negotiated the treaty, even Time noted that:
Under Reagan’s ceilings, the U.S. would have to make considerably less of an adjustment in its strategic forces than would the Soviet Union. That feature of the proposal will almost certainly prompt the Soviets to charge that it is unfair and one-sided. No doubt some American arms-control advocates will agree, accusing the Administration of making the Kremlin an offer it cannot possibly accept—a deceptively equal-looking, deliberately nonnegotiable proposal that is part of what some suspect is the hardliners’ secret agenda of sabotaging disarmament so that the U.S. can get on with the business of rearmament.
But accept it they did because of SDI. And thus Reagan negotiated the treaty from a position of strength to preserve superiority, not ensure parity. We all knew Ronald Reagan. He was our beloved President, and under his watch I didn’t have to worry with such pedestrian issues as what the New START contains and why a lame duck Congress would ratify such a thing.
Yes, we all knew Ronald Reagan, and Mr. Obama, you sir are no Ronald Reagan.