Amnesty for Entrepreneurs Mooted—But Khodorkovsky’s Release Looks Doubtful

May 15, 2013

It was reported today that Vladimir Putin will meet with business leaders next week to discuss the possibility of granting amnesty to imprisoned entrepreneurs—prompting speculation about whether such a measure would extend to former Yukos CEO and Putin nemesis Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Formerly one of the most powerful men in Russia, this October will mark ten years imprisonment for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, while July will mark the ten-year anniversary for former Yukos Executive Platon Lebedev. Both men were subjected to a string of politically-motivated show trials as a result of Khodorkovsky’s outspoken opposition to Putin’s style of governance, which have been widely condemned by the international community for failing to uphold basic standards of justice. The Yukos case—in which the government also virtually nationalised the multi-billion dollar company—is now widely viewed as a turning point for post-Soviet Russia, establishing the state’s pre-eminence over private business, the deterioration of the rule of law and the turn towards “state capitalism.”

Last year, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s release dates were cut from 2016 to 2014, although this does not guarantee that the authorities will not find a pretext for new trials, as was done to both men in 2010. To this end, their release is unlikely to be spurred on by a general amnesty initiative—indeed, such an arrangement may even be undertaken to detract attention from the serious repression of political dissent in Russia, and as an attempt to bolster the confidence of skittish international investors.

Over the past decade, Mikhail Khodorkovsky has morphed from an oligarch to a political prisoner, and his personal sacrifices in the name of principle strike an obvious chord in a country steeped in the dissident tradition. This makes him a dangerous variable in Russian politics—particularly as Putin is devoting significant political energy to stamping out the country’s burgeoning opposition movement. Unfortunately, so long as Vladimir Putin remains in power the release of prisoners like Khodorkovsky will remain in the remit of “telephone justice.”