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Khodorkovsky: blood or cash?

About the author
Andrei Piontkovsky is an eminent Russian academic and political analyst, specialising in Russia's domestic, foreign and security politics

The second trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky began on 3 March.  It is a significant event, though not unique in the history of Russian political trials. The sadistic desire to kick a victim when he is lying down has inflamed Kremlin rulers more than once. The second trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev,the second trial of Rokotov and Faibishenko, the fifth trial of Marchenko -these are only the most famous examples of this kind of brutality.

Nevertheless I think a different historical analogy, not connected with the fact of a second trial, is more appropriate here. There is only one other political trial where the stakes in the battle inside the Kremlin were so high:  the doctors' trial that did not take place. It was also supposed to be held in March in the Hall of Columns in the House of Unions.

In March 1953 in place of the trial the unplanned ceremonial farewell to Comrade Stalin, who had initiated and inspired it, was held in this hall. Another party won - the party of Comrade Beria,whose 100 days of rule showed that for those times he was potentially a more effective reformer than those in Medvedev's circle today.

For all Stalin's hostile attitude to the unfortunate accused, as he lapsed into zoological anti-Semitismin his old age, they were only pawns in the enormous game where the stakes were the Power, Life and Death of the leaders of the country.

The fate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky today is also only an excuse for a showdown between the "party of blood" and "party of cash" in the Kremlin. Open confrontation between the two has been avoided so far.  We can only guess at why the "party of blood" has raised the stakes so high and decided to hold this trial.

There can be no outcome to the trial that would please both parties. If Khodorkovsky is acquitted at a public open trial advertised by the regime, it will be a shameful defeat for the"party of blood", a sign of its increasing weakness, the political death of Putinism and its leader. Quite soon after this two classic phrases will re-appear.  The first is what Count Pahlen said to Emperor Alexander I "Go, sire, and rule!"  The second (from the Alexander Galich song) will be on all the Russian TV channels: "Our father turned out to be a bitch, not a father".

If, on the other hand, Khodorkovsky is sentenced for a second time, the formal president (the political hope of the "party of cash") will be publicly humiliated.  It will demonstrate convincingly to the president that he occupies the same position as Kalinin did in the Kremlin pecking order.  There will be a severe purge of party members in the structures of government and presidential administration, as well as in the media.

The trial of the "doctor murderers" in March 1953 was intended to have a similarly explosive role in the developing crisis of power. Those times were far from easy and political death automatically also meant physical death. The execution of Jewish doctors would have been followed by the execution of what the poet Osip Mandelstam called the  "thin-necked leaders". But in1953 the trial ended several days before it began with the opposite outcome -the death of Stalin.

It is hard to predict how the trial of March 2009 will end. The "party of blood" has chosen to escalate the situation.  It seems to me that they have chosen the right moment for a clash, but made a mistake in choosing the field of battle. Some foreign policy escapade would have been much more promising.

The crisis is rapidly destroying the Putin myth, turning it on its head. In spite of their patriotic garb, the ugly Chekist-bandit capitalism of the Sechins and Chemezovs, the Timchenkos and Yakunins has been revealed. The increasing inadequacy of their leader is already obvious from official television reports.

The party of cash - the party of the Abramovichs and Voloshins, Deripaskas and Potanins - bears just as much responsibility for the economic catastrophe that has overtaken the country.  It now has the chance to blame the crisis exclusively on its rivals and purge them during a "Medvedev thaw".

For the "party of blood" delay could be fatal, if they want to stop the process of de-Putinisation which is gathering speed, though it is unlikely that a repeat trial of Khodorkovsky is the proper arena for this. Their choking hatred for Khodorkovsky has betrayed them. The charges made against him are absurd. His courageous behaviour in prison has gained him increasing sympathy in society. Many see him as one of the anti-crisis managers who will be able to save the country from the difficult situation. Everyone remembers that his imprisonment began with his public dispute on matters of principle with the "national leader" - "Your officials are stealing, Mr. President!"

By putting Khodorkovsky in prison the officials and close friends of the eternal president/prime minister (about whom Viktor Gerashchenko said so succinctly "they ripped us off, the bastards") are continuing to rip off the country on an incredible scale.

Everyone who has read on the internet Abramovich's testimony at the Royal Courts of Justice in London has heard about the $13 billion that he was paid for the company Sibneft.  They will also have read about the fantastic financial success of the Gunvor company and will be familiar with the report "Putin and Gazprom".  No one could have the slightest doubt that the leaders of the "party of blood", starting at the very top, are the "oligarchs who robbed the country". This is not a comfortable topic - either for the party of blood or for the power elite as a whole.

This article first appeared in Russian on www.grani.ru


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