I wonder if, with all the Duck Dynasty NOTnews hysteria (because ZOMG! SOMEONESAIDSOMETHINGBADABOUTGAYSGAYSGOTUPSETSOMENETWORK
SUSPENDEDTHESOMEONEANDNOWEVERYONEHASTHEIRPANTIESINATWIST), anyone has any idea that today, a man who has spent 10 years in a Russian prison for the crime of standing up to Vladimir Putin, was pardoned by the same and allowed to escape to Germany.
Who is Mikhail Khodorkovsky?
The short version is that he was a Russian oligarch who had the balls to stand up to Vladimir Putin. He was a philanthropist and a self-made man. He was smart. He used his connections with the Komsomol (the USSR’s communist youth association) to start his own business, and made his way from a half-Jew living in a 2-room apartment in Moscow to Russia’s richest man.
But Khodorkovsky made one huge mistake. He crossed Vladimir Putin. Critical of the “managed democracy” Putin headed – a nation that uses the free markets when convenient, and allows them to exist, as long as they’re controlled by the few in power – Khodorkovsky publicly told The Times of London that Russia’s leadership was “the Singapore model, it is a term that people understand in Russia these days. It means that theoretically you have a free press, but in practice there is self-censorship. Theoretically you have courts; in practice the courts adopt decisions dictated from above. Theoretically there are civil rights enshrined in the constitution; in practice you are not able to exercise some of these rights.”
He publicly argued with Putin in a televised meeting about corruption in 2003. Putin was apparently happy to let him make his money, as long as he didn’t rock Putin’s boat of authority, but he’d apparently had enough.
Putin, a former officer of the K.G.B., was especially infuriated by Khodorkovsky’s attempt to negotiate independent deals with foreign partners. In the emerging system, widely known as Kremlin Incorporated, these were not the prerogatives of a private businessman. Putin had instructed the oligarchs that he would not question the origins of their lucre so long as they kept out of politics. And yet, in February, 2003, at a televised meeting at the Kremlin, Khodorkovsky sparred recklessly with Putin, challenging him on questions of government corruption, and implying that top state officials were pocketing millions in bribes. Privately, Putin told Lord John Browne, the former head of BP, “I have eaten more dirt than I need to from that man.”
You know what happened next?
You probably don’t, because you’ve been too busy over the past 10 years, watching reality TV, snorting at the antics of Lindsey Lohan and Britney Spears, and more recently Miley Cyrus, and airing your masturbatory fantasies over the latest celebrity scandals.
Khodorkovsky was arrested on what appeared to be pretty spurious charges of tax evasion and fraud. He spent the next 10 years in prison, with new charges added on to his sentence, including the accusation that he stole 350 million tons of oil… from himself. His trials were, by all accounts, kangaroo tribunals. It took months just to read the initial charges against Khodorkovsky in a notoriously corrupt judicial system, in which his defense attorney now faces the Russian equivalent of disbarment for failure to defend her client effectively.
Bottom line: Khodorkovsky spent the decade in prison. Not in a nice, cushy prison, but a Russian one. A labor camp. And today, out of the blue, the man who basically said in the past that Khodorkovsky wouldn’t get out of prison as long as he was alive and in power, pardoned the political prisoner and allowed him to leave Russia to go to Germany.
So while many Americans whined about the Duck Dynasty guy’s “rights” being “violated,” because his employer chose to end the association with him, a guy who spoke out against Putin’s leadership and Russia’s corruption and was imprisoned for a decade was released today! What? You were too busy discussing why Duck guy’s vag>anus remarks were or were not offensive?
So why did Putin do it?
Here’s my 2 cents.
It is important to Putin to put Russia as a world power on the international stage – both militarily and politically. The G-20 summit was a chance to have world leaders come to St. Petersburg and show the world Russia’s cred. The Sochi Olympics are a similar venue. Putin wants the world there to give Russia legitimacy – not as the “Evil Empire” any longer, but as a legitimate world player.
Thanks to Russia’s odious anti-gay laws (GLAAD, you need to take note of REAL violations of gay and lesbian rights, not some Duck redneck spouting off), world leaders are giving Sochi the big middle finger. Sochi was to be a big step toward restoring Russia’s political glory, but now, the world is showing its disgust with what it perceives to be Russia’s human rights violations, and that’s not sitting right with Russia’s leadership.
Then there’s Khodorkovsky himself. He’s no longer a political threat to Putin. He’s not the vibrant, young guy who very publicly challenged Putin and garnered a significant political following. He’s not the richest man in Russia and doesn’t have the resources behind him to pose any kind of threat to the status quo. He’s a guy who has spent the last 10 years in a Russian work camp. He’s probably weakened physically and needs to recover.
So given the lack of threat, why not show magnanimity at a time when the world is turning away from Russia and release Khodorkovsky? Why not surprise the world with good will and release the political enemy that has been languishing in Russia’s jail for a decade? Khodorkovsky cannot hurt Putin, and with his pardon, Putin can improve his own standing in the human rights arena and show his critics that he can, indeed, be a good guy! Just in time for Christmas.
A friend of mine and I speculated at work the other day that one of the conditions of Khodorkovsky’s release would be his immediate “exile” out of Russia. The last thing Putin needs is for Khodorkovsky to become a national icon – a martyr and constant reminder that he, Putin, violates human rights. His departure, we speculated, will ensure that the attention is on Putin – his benevolence toward his political enemies. Sure enough, the moment Khodorkovsky was released, he headed straight to Germany.
There had been talk of amnesty for a number of political prisoners for several years in Russia, and many had given up hope this mass amnesty would happen, but in the midst of harsh criticism of Russia’s onerous laws targeting homosexuals, the amnesty pardoning some 20,000 people cleared the Duma.
Things are going on in the world. Bad things. The 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing that saw 270 people perish is being commemorated today.
Tensions are increasing between China and Japan.
Uganda passed a law that would imprison gays for life.
People are dying in the Central African Republic.
Thailand is teetering on the brink of civil war.
A shooting in the Manila airport in the Philippines has left four people dead.
And six more NATO troops died in an aircraft crash in Afghanistan a few days ago.
But by all means, continue to shit yourselves over perceived “human rights violations” in the words of the Duck Dynasty guy and A&E Network’s reaction to the interview. That’s much more important.