As Yukos heads Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev laguish in prison uncertain about their status (handing down of the verdict was postponed until May 16... and now, it appears that they may face new charges... suspicious anyone?), the future of Russian politics appears in peril. There was an interesting interview with a third Yukos partner, Leonid Nevzlin, in the Russian paper Gazetta about the plight of his partners and the future of the Russian government. He says that he may have to get involved in politics:
What if there is a chance to make a deal provided you renounce political activities?
If there is such an opportunity, then of course we will try to make a deal — people are in jail. But I simply don’t believe in such an opportunity, and am preparing myself for a long struggle. You see, the psychology of this government is such that it will make deals only with the strong. As for the weak, they are accustomed to crushing them. When there is nothing else left to discuss, we have to work towards replacing the government.
But the president recently hinted that he does not rule out a third term. Meaning in 2008 some temporary president will appear, and then in 2012, if not sooner, Putin has the right to run for president again. Taking Putin’s popularity into account, his team could stay in power for several decades.
I think that Putin should worry more about the Hague than the new elections. He will have to answer for Chechnya, and Nord-Ost and for Beslan.
It appears more and more that not only is political freedom going by the wayside, but economic freedom and the ability to conduct open, clean business in Russia is going to be diminished more and more. The Yukos trial is just a start:
Recently, presidential aide Igor Shuvalov said that the Yukos case was a very telling trial that was aiming to get people to start paying taxes. This sounded like the Stalinist show trials.
This is a very near-sighted view. Because after doing what the government did to us, they sent a signal to the rest of the business community: recede into the shadows. The Kremlin and the prosecutors took advantage of the fact that we kept open accounting, and used it against us. Now ask any business if they want to work in the open, to show their real profits. Now they know for certain that the FSB and the prosecution will be after them. In essence, Putin created a racket economy.
I really hope that the Western business community gets involved in pressuring Russia to change. First is Yukos, next is going to be Motorola and Samsung. And if Western businesses think otherwise, they are sorely mistaken.
Putin and his cronies in the business world need Western business. Without it, they're nothing. Russia is getting increasingly isolated by becoming surrounded pro-Western states: Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltics, possibly soon Belarus, so losing vital Western investment will be an even greater blow. People in Russia may now support Putin because they like the law and order that existed in the Soviet days and hate the disorder, uncertainty, and poverty that came about after the Soviet Union fell apart. But soon, they will discover that Putin's cure is worse that the disease, especially when Western business start to bolt and the people realize that Putin and Soviet-style strongarm politics threaten their livelihoods. People in the business world often ignore the connection between economic freedom and political freedom. In the case of Russia, they are essentially one and the same. This is what the legacy of Communism is all about. As Glenn says, read the whole thing.