Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said that corruption at the highest levels, the absence of rule of law and political risk are the main constraints to investment in Russia in an interview published simultaneously in four global newspapers.
His comments, which were sent to The Wall Street Journal Europe, France’s Le Figaro, Italy’s Il Mondo and Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reflect a belief that it is the responsibility of the seven other member states of the G-8 to apply pressure on Russia to respect human rights and common values.
The full transcript of the replies that Mikhail Khodorkovsky sent to The Wall Street Journal Europe and other newspapers.
On June 10, shortly before being transferred to an undisclosed prison in Siberia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky responded to a selection of questions from The Journal, France’s Le Figaro, Italy’s Il Mondo and Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Below is the full transcript provided by his lawyer:
1. The 15th Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum is opening tomorrow [June 16]. Once again, Russian leaders are going to try to persuade foreign entrepreneurs to make massive investments in our country—which they are practically not doing compared to what is happening in China, India or Brazil. In your opinion, what can explain the foreign investors’ cold feet?
The three main restraints are obvious: corruption at its highest, a manifest lack of rule of law and ultimately, the emergence of significant political risk. The level of corruption is on the order of 25% of GDP. It has never been this high in all of Russia’s history. According to data from the Transparency International NGO, Russia is now somewhere around the level of Nigeria. This is probably everything we need to know about the investment climate today.
As concerns rule of law, I know only too well that it does not exist in Russia—the judiciary is not independent at all. I am not the only one saying this: the American and German governments, as well as the European Commission and Parliament, have recently raised this question once again, referring to my own situation as an example.
Concerning long-term political risks, to understand them it is sufficient to look at the conditions of the "democratic spring" in North Africa and the Middle East—which nobody was expecting even recently—although the situation is different in Russia. Today, we are witnessing the reawakening of democracy in countries that had been under the domination of authoritarian or dictatorial regimes for a long time. And this reawakening is being accomplished by civil society, in a context where there is no freedom of speech and expression, in countries where the members of the political opposition are muzzled or thrown in jail. Doesn’t this remind you of something? In Russia, we have the very same fundamental problems on the agenda as in the region of North Africa and the Middle East: honest elections, an independent judiciary, free mass media, a real fight against corruption. The main task for my country is to not miss the historic "window of opportunity" for an orderly liberalization, the provision of political freedoms to the people, and the creation of the institutions of a democratic state and a civil society. At any rate, the country does not have much time left before the new generation is going to "check out" the system for itself. This is inevitable. If a truly democratic tradition for the resolution of the question of power does not exist by that time, no siloviki[strongmen] will be able to help keep the country under control.
2. Nonetheless, Russia is a G-8 [Group of Eight] member and its request for accession to the WTO is being supported by the United States. Nicolas Sarkozy, the factual head of the G-8, issued a very strong joint statement with Dmitry Medvedev, reminding the world that the cold war is over and that Russia must be regarded as a privileged partner. Are the Western leaders making a strategic mistake here?
Since they have accepted Russia into the group, the other seven member states have a moral obligation to insist that Russia respect common values. There is no such thing as free elections, freedom of expression or rule of law in Russia today. As a result, the Russian leadership is getting an entry card into the club without any duties and responsibilities. The biggest misconception of some people in the West is that they believe "realpolitik" in relations with Russia means not standing up for Euro-Atlantic values of democracy, property rights and rule of law. Such people do not think about the possibility of grave consequences, or are hoping to pass on the responsibility for the problems to future generations. However, Russia is too influential a player on the European continent, while European "pragmatism" affects the psychological atmosphere in our country too seriously.
Besides, there is a historical context as well: as one of the classics of Marxism-Leninism said, "The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them." In the absence of a single unified position on the Russian question among the leaders, there will soon be a high price to pay for the current inertia in the sphere of human rights, which is conditioned by the inertia in the energy sphere, and not only by it. A high price in the literal and the figurative sense. Both for Russia and for the rest of Europe.
3. At the last G-8 meeting, Paris and Moscow came to an agreement on the sale of high-performance warships for the first time since the end of World War II. It seems that realpolitik and arms sales have taken precedence over human rights, both for France and for other countries. Do you think this is unavoidable?
The "realpolitik" that is so dear to Western leaders should be realistic by definition! This process should not be regarded as rewarding the anti-democratic steps of the Russian leadership. It must be understood that the government in power is going to use this to justify its actions inside Russia, to legitimize them. In Washington or Paris, everyone knows—and it is enough to re-read Wikileaks to be convinced of this—who are the most corrupt Russian leaders, the ones who reduce President Medvedev’s reformist ambitions to mere broken promises. At the same time, for instance, Russia should be allowed to join the WTO, inasmuch as the Russian people should not be punished for their corrupt and law-breaking officials.
4. In relation to your own personal situation, the Moscow City Court confirmed your sentence of 13 years of deprivation of liberty last month, which means that you have now exhausted all legal channels in your country. Will you now adopt a low profile in the hope of an early release for good behavior, or will you continue to openly express your opinion, as you have been doing for the past eight years? You smiled when then the court issued its verdict in relation to you. You risk being thrown in solitary confinement for giving interviews—and yet you give them anyway. Why do you do these things? Have you no fear?
In 2006, when it became known that a second case against me was being prepared, I realized that perhaps I would have to spend the rest of my life in jail. In the first years of the recreation of Russia, like many of our friends, we fought for the democratization of the country, although we made many mistakes. The last years before the arrest, I was actively engaged in civic activity focused at fighting for civil liberties: I funded the opposition, supported independent mass media, and helped in the work of teaching youth how to be politically informed.
Jail changed the means, but not the goal. The situation is such that my line of behavior in prison no longer carries potential threats for my friends, family, and colleagues. For myself I am not afraid. And life without a goal—is not life.
When I was still a child, I discovered a thought that resonated strongly with me: "It is better to shine brightly and then burn out than to slowly smoulder aimlessly." That is how I live.
5. Just after the court of appeal had delivered its decision, you officially applied for conditional early release on parole, since you had already served half of your sentence. Do you truly believe in such a possibility?
In theory, even after this second verdict, by law I am technically already eligible for parole: Indeed, I have spent more than half my term in jail. Political will is needed for this to happen. But I will keep on trying—in the hope that one day justice will carry the day over political diktat.
6. Can it be said that Vladimir Putin is today the only obstacle to your release, or at least to a fairer trial?
Vladimir Putin has designated me his personal enemy. As can be seen, he shares with Stalin a vision of the role of the judiciary that is incompatible with international standards. And still, he is not the only one like this in Russia. There is a whole group of people who have become billionaires and multi-millionaires on the rout of Yukos who are impeding my release. And who are going to impede it, irrespective of the degree of Vladimir Putin’s personal involvement in the process.
7. Putin accuses you of having blood on your hands. Nevertheless, you have never been charged with murder or attempted murder. Do you believe a third trial, that would take these charges up, is possible?
It will take a lot to surprise me after the charges that I had stolen all the oil produced by Yukos; that said, you just said it yourself: I have never been charged with something like that. I prefer to proceed from the facts.
8. Do you believe that you will be released at the end of your term in 2016?
It seems pretty obvious to me that my release doesn’t depend on me. So you should ask someone else this question.
9. In your line of defense, you have always sought to make a contrast between Putin and Medvedev. At the same time, the Russian political opposition (Vladimir Ryzhkov, Mikhail Kasyanov) deems that there is no difference between them. Do you still believe that such a strategy is the right one?
These two men differ in their background, their personal qualities and their vision of Russia’s future. The question should rather be: Can the President carry out his vision? Today, there is a significant gap between Dmitry Medvedev’s declared ambitions and the reality of the Russian government’s actions. I think that this does not go unnoticed, either in Russia or in other countries.
10. Do you believe that Medvedev had a chance to change the situation with rule of law in Russia (including the situation with the second "Yukos case"), and why didn’t he use his chance?
All I can say is that the situation regarding rule of law in Russia has not improved since Dmitry Medvedev became president. Unfortunately, I know this only too well. Did he try? I would say "yes." Did he succeed? The answer must be "no."
11. According to you, who of the participants in the "Putin-Medvedev" tandem will become the presidential candidate in the 2012 elections?
This question should be asked of the tandem.
12. Would you like Dmitry Medvedev to remain president for a second term?
In actuality, the question should be this: if Medvedev is elected for a second term, will he be able to conduct the reforms he has been unsuccessfully calling for ever since his election? Today there is no answer to it.
13. Do you think that you still represent a threat to the Russian power? What does this threat consist of?
According to president Medvedev, the answer to this question is: "No, absolutely not." I share this point of view.
14. Your media campaign is concentrated mainly on Western political opinion, which may set Russian public opinion against you even more, and feeds the anti-Western rhetoric of the Russian authorities. Are you not making a mistake in so doing?
My media campaign is not concentrated on Western public opinion: I communicate probably even more with Russian opinion—by means of interviews, texts, and exchanges of letters. It goes without saying that the dearth of media freedom in Russia, on TV in particular, might lead to a different impression at the end of the day.
15. In a recent Levada Center survey, 55% of Russians responded that they do not feel sorry for you. Do you take such non-recognition as a personal defeat?
All these years I am looking not for pity, but for support. Today such support is significantly higher than it was right after the arrest. To the extent that one can take such surveys seriously, immediately after my arrest the number of those not "feeling sorry" was, I believe, 95%.
16. Very recently, a series of principal television channels spoke about you in prime time, for the first time in seven years, and some of the reports were rather positive. How do you explain this today—are you no longer "taboo"?
The answer was given in one of the television broadcasts by one of the three main federal television channels in prime time, after many years of prohibition on pronouncing my name on TV: "The attitude towards this person is changing." In this connection the question for me is: The change of whose attitude towards me is significant for our television airtime?
17. If they released you tomorrow, what would you do first?
I do not want to discuss my steps in the event of my being set free. For now I am in jail, and am fighting, proceeding from this reality. I am perfectly able to keep myself busy both now, and in the future. As long as they allow me to read and write.
18. It would seem that your last hope lies outside of Russia, being connected with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the West. You have been making use of these opportunities for eight years now without success. Recently, the ECHR responded to your first application. Were you disappointed that the European Court judges did not recognize the political nature of your arrest?
The European Court for Human Rights, as well as Western governments, have already taken a stand for me in a series of occasions. George Bush, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bernard Kouchner, William Hague, José Manuel Barroso, Jerzy Buzek and others have expressed their personal concern about my case. I cannot list all those who have expressed their solidarity with me and Platon Lebedev over the last seven-and-a-halfyears here. I will never be able to thank them enough for this, and I hope that one day I will be able to shake their hands and thank them in person.
I hope that the strong words of support on the part of democratic countries with respect to our case and other cases connected with violations of human rights will soon be followed up with real actions by these countries despite the culture of realpolitik. There are many initiatives, but all of them need the political will of the leaders of the country for their realization.
As concerns the ECHR decision, I invite you to read the ECHR judgment carefully.
I consider the Court’s judgment concerning my arrest on October 25, 2003 and subsequent detention throughout the duration of the first trial to be a significant success. The Court found that the conditions in which I was held in the SIZO cell and in the courtroom throughout the entire trial in 2004 and 2005 were inhuman and degrading, contrary to Article 3 of the Convention. The Court also found that, in violation of Article 5 of the Convention, my initial arrest in Novosibirsk was unlawful and that my subsequent pre-trial detention in SIZO conditions concerns a violation of a fundamental human right, which no State is ever permitted to derogate from, even in time of war or public emergency. The Court’s overarching finding in relation to the serious violations of those Articles of the Convention is that my fundamental human rights were violated by the authorities from the moment of my arrest and throughout the duration of my first trial. Eight violations of the Convention in one application is some sort of a record! And the application concerning the unfairness of the first trial has not been even considered on the merits yet.
It has always been very difficult to establish a breach of Article 18 in the European Court, but in its decision in my case, the Court, for the first time in its practice with respect to Article 18, said that the applicant should give "incontrovertible and direct proof" that is sufficient "to conclude that the whole legal machinery of the respondent State in the present case was ab initio misused, that from the beginning to the end the authorities were acting with bad faith and in blatant disregard of the Convention." The Court nevertheless did find that the authorities were driven by improper reasons with regard to my arrest.
19. Looking back on your activities in the 1990s, what was your biggest mistake?
Maybe I didn’t realize soon enough that money is not interesting in and of itself. But I began my philanthropic activities before the end of the 㥢s, and my main priority even then was already to appeal to civil society.
20. At the beginning of the Yukos affair in 2003, you stated in an interview that you are a businessman, not a dissident. After your company was deprived of assets, and the criminal trial against you personally, you are no longer a businessman—are you now a dissident?
Amnesty International has recognized me as a prisoner of conscience. Does this make me a dissident? If you mean someone who is ready to sit in jail a long time because of his ideas, then yes, I am one.