Democracy. Russia. CIS.

The Second Khordokovsky Trial and the “Virtual Mafia State.”

Posted by democratist on December 31, 2010

31st December 2010,

From time to time Democratist enjoys dipping into Truth and Beauty, an intelligent if cynical pro-putin blog run by Eric Kraus, the (fairly openly) mercenary Moscow-based French investment broker who maintains a natty sideline as a sort of ersatz financial Machiavelli among Russia bloggers.

Democratist tends to see the opinions in T&B as a cleverly distilled reflection of the prejudices of the Russian elite, aimed at gaining this critical constituency’s approval, whilst also talking-up foreign investment through Kraus’ own firm.

As such, we found T&B’s recent musings on the second Khordokovsky trial both instructive and informative. These can be summarized as follows;

  • Khordokovsky is a brutal crook, guilty of complicity in a number of murders, and deserves to be in prison.
  • However, he has not yet been charged with murder, perhaps because the Russian government is holding this in reserve so it can continue to threaten him later.
  • Khordokovsky is no more guilty than the worst of his oligarch peers, but unlike them continued to threaten the Russian state after Putin came to power, and has therefore faced the consequences.
  • Putin is being disingenuous when he claims he does not have evidence against the other oligarchs. He does, and can use this kompromat to keep them in line.
  • The West is just as corrupt as Russia, only in a different way: Russia has “honest corruption”; well-stuffed envelopes and fee-for-service, without hypocrisy. In the West, the media are “bought” through the influence of PR men and lobbyists.

In pointing out that Mr Khordokovsky was (to put it mildly) no saint, admitting the political motivation for the original trial, and underlining how the case has served as an important constitutive element in the creation of the of the current political system, Kraus is surely correct.  For Democratist however, his main failing is his clearly false, nomenklatura-flattering insistence that Russia and the West are two sides of the same coin in terms of corruption.

In a competitive political environment, politicians, voters, PR men, lobbyists, civil society do-gooders, journalists, bureaucrats, judges, lawyers and others are forced to constantly fight it out for political influence.  The result is a system which, while far from perfect, retains a considerable resistance to political and judiciary corruption, and in which policies and legal decisions are usually tested by criticism, and face possible correction.

In contemporary Russia there is no longer any political competition; corruption flourishes to an extent unseen in any other major industrialized country, and the rule of law is open to the kind of selective application (as a warning to others) demonstrated by the second Khordokovsky trial. Under Putin, murder and blackmail have been subsumed into the fabric of the political system rather than quashed by it. The predictable result has been, in the wikileaked words of the US State Department, “a corrupt, autocratic kleptocracy…in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together to create a virtual mafia state.”

It will be very interesting to see how many foreigners will be keen to invest their money into such a country in 2011.

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