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#28 - JRL 9289 - JRL Home
From: Nathan Arnold nathan.w.arnold@us.army.mil
Date: Tue, 08 Nov 2005
Subject: Response to Major (Ret.) Ronald Hamiltons JRL #9288 piece

[Khodorkovsky Trial, Rule of Law, Democracy]
Response to Major (Ret.) Ronald Hamiltons JRL #9288 piece

By 1st Lieutenant Nathan Arnold, US Army Intelligence
Russia/FSU Analyst, US Army Europe

I recently read Major Hamilton's JRL 9288 rebuttal to Natan Sharansky's Washington Post piece that was also published in JRL #9280 and was compelled to respond, not only because of what I perceive to be its many errors of reasoning, but because it is the discussions in JRL that I have always enjoyed the most and I was thrilled to see another Army Officer taking part in, even if I disagree with some of his views.

Major Hamilton's first argument that Sharansky ignores Khodorkovsky's guilt or innocence misses the point. Guilt or innocence are moot points in Russia today. The fact is in Russia today pretty much everyone is guilty, as far as the letter of the law is concerned, and as much as I too believe in Khodorkovsky's guilt, at issue is the reason the Russian government chose to prosecute Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky was jailed not because of his crimes (as real as they may be) but because the Putin government viewed him as a political threat and/or and opportunity to make an example of what happens to those who oppose the state. This entire process is not about crime, but politics. Major Hamilton points out that the many �oligarchs-in-exile� are in exile to avoid being tried for their crimes if they return to Russia, this may be true, but ignores the many �oligarchs� still operating in Russia, plus the armies of bureaucrats and lower level businesspeople also guilty of corruption and �economic� crimes that the Russian government patently ignores. Major Hamilton focuses on Khodorkovsky's guilt vs. innocence (and he is most likely correct), but misses the point: this trial was not about right vs. wrong, but was instead about maintaining control of the political process.

Also, Major Hamilton mentions a trial by jury. (I do not believe Mr. Khodorkovsky or his associate Lebedev even received a trial by jury, but may be wrong, I am certain some more knowledgeable JRL reader will correct me if so.) This system is joke in Russia. Juries do have a slightly higher acquittal rate than non-jury trials in Russia, but it is still very high, and unlike in the United States there are no laws against double jeopardy in Russia, people can and have been charged again with the same crime after being acquitted by a jury.

Major Hamilton also argues that, "the current period in Russian democratic advancement is far more stable, constitutional, rule-of-law oriented, and more fair that the period of the Oligarchy which preceded Putin." I do not agree with all of Major Hamilton's statement, but it has some truth to it, but once again he misses the point. Russia is more stable, which is one of the reasons Putin enjoys so much popularity with the Russian people, but the Russia people have traded a small amount of economic stability for political and bureaucratic domination. Yes, Russia is more prosperous in the new century then it was in the nineties, but that is not the question, the real question is why has there been so little improvement for the average Russian? The economy expands, but the very few reap the greatest rewards and most go on living as they had before. Under Yeltsin there was chaos, but in that chaos was born the beginnings of true freedom of the press and political freedom. Putin's government has put a stop to all that: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, free and fair elections, and even the direct election of local leaders has been "liquidated" as they say of rebels in Chechnya. In exchange the Russian people have received a few years of oil driven cash gluts, most of which is consumed by the vast array of corrupt bureaucrats that truly control the country.

Major Hamilton has made an argument about order, stability, and economic growth against Mr. Sharansky's political one, missing the main thrust of the article. Mr. Sharansky's point was not about these things. It is about political repression, something he experienced first hand, something most Americans and Westerners can never understand. I had the dubious pleasure of being detained by the MVD in 2003 while in Petrozavodsk for "suspicion of theft of government property," a "misunderstanding" that was "cleared up" three hours later (surprisingly without a bribe). I had just the tiniest of glimpses into the Russian "justice" system and I was afraid. Political repression, even when directed against dubious figures, is still political repression. When we allow political repression to go unnoticed for the sake of economic or other reasons we start down the slippery slope that has put us (the United States) in many of the precarious situations we find ourselves today.

Just ask a certain former dictator currently on trial for crimes against humanity who his biggest ally was when he committed those crimes.