In 2000, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the richest man under forty years old in the world. He has been in prison on what amounts to an indefinite sentence for the last eight years. It’s an interesting case, because it is such a naked illustration of the exercise of power, of where it really rests in Russia.
Khodorkovsky was an oligarch, one of the individuals who after the fall of the Soviet Union, used political connections to acquire control of one of the state companies being auctioned off to the public by the thousands. Khodorkovsky’s efforts gained him control of Yukos for a pittance, which before its collapse in the wake of his arrest, was the second largest oil company in the world. In other words, he was hardly a saint.
But he made the biggest mistake a person of nominal power can make in Russia. He did not heed the implicit warning that anything goes for oligarchs, so long as they stay away from politics. Khodorkovsky began to support opposition parties, to speak about the need to liberalize. And perhaps most critically, he evinced absolutely no fear of Vladimir Putin.
He was arrested, sentenced to eight years for fraud, and then last year sentenced to another six years on similar additional charges. Khodorkovsky was not a political radical by any stretch, but in an authoritarian state simple defiance is the most political of acts.
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