“A Feeling of Fear is Spreading”

An Associated Press report on the case of Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky contains worrisome details:

The 10-month investigation against Yukos — the company Khodorkovsky transformed into one of Russia’s largest oil producers — and its shareholders is seen by many as retaliation for Khodorkovsky’s political aspirations.

Ahead of December’s parliamentary elections, Khodorkovsky openly backed several parties that opposed President Vladimir Putin. The businessman also became increasingly assertive on policy issues and publicly lectured the Kremlin for its weak stance on corruption…

“The authorities, as personified by Putin and his group, have two aims: to civilize society but also a slightly contradictory goal, to control it,” said Igor Bunin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Technology. “With the help of the Yukos case … authorities have eliminated the political and economic autonomy of Yukos, which in their opinion, presented a potential threat..

Analysts say the multi-pronged attack on Yukos may be an attempt to force Khodorkovsky to make a deal and give up his assets in exchange for a lighter sentence. He already resigned as head of the company last year in a futile attempt to shield it from the government’s blows.

The alternative, the analysts say, could be a long drawn-out bankruptcy process that could cost Yukos’ shareholders their billion-dollar fortunes — and still end with Yukos in state control. Either way, analysts say, it would serve as an example to other business leaders…

Yevgeny Yasin, a prominent economic expert who served as economics minister in the 1990s, warned earlier this week that the Yukos affair should make all businesses — and Russian citizens — uneasy.

“A feeling of fear is spreading,” he said.

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