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Is the Yukos Affair really non-political?

Vera Vasilieva, 21/09/11


· The Strasbourg Court · The Yukos Affair · Political prisoners

On the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Yukos Oil Company v Russia, correspondent Vera Vasilieva writes: “It is entirely possible not to describe the underlying cause as political.” A personal view.

On 20 September, the European Court of Human Rights announced its verdict in the case of Yukos Oil Company v Russia. In particular, one conclusion from the document is that the court found no evidence of politically-motivated discrimination in the case. And off they went! Government media raced to quote the statements of Russian officials, who said: “Yukos has lost its case against the Russian Federation! Strasbourg has found only trivial violations!”

Yet the commentators somehow rather shamefully failed to mention that what they call ‘trivialities’, are actually violations of such fundamental rights as the right to protect property (Article 1 of the Additional Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), and the right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the Convention). The main point is that this will now allow minority Yukos shareholders to seek compensation for their losses and a fair trial.

Regarding the motives for the Yukos Affair, in my view it is possible to agree with the European Court’s verdict that they are not political in nature. However, I cannot help but point out that even the investigators conducting some of the individual cases against Yukos personnel have said these cases were political. Take, for example, the candid admissions of Aleksandr Bannikov, the investigating official in charge of the case against former Yukos security officer, Aleksei Pichugin.

“He said he had no reason whatsoever to acquaint himself with this ‘rubbish’ (the case materials), and that I, as a former security services officer, should understand that. He said that I, Pichugin, was as such of no interest to anyone personally. The case was political, and the people they were really interested in were Nevzlin, Khodorkovsky and the other co- owners of the oil company. However excellent the lawyers defending me, the outcome of the case was already decided,” Aleksei Pichugin related at his trial. Investigator Bannikov also told the other key figure in the case, Mikhail Ovsyannikov (who subsequently testified in defence of Pichugin) that this was a ‘case from the top.’

It should also be noted that the European Court of Human Rights’ verdict has not overturned the numerous refusals by courts in various countries to extradite former Yukos people, who have received the status of political refugees.

However, I repeat, it is entirely possible not to describe the underlying cause in the Yukos affair as political in nature, and instead, to describe the motives as personal and materialistic. For regular observers, it is no secret just how personally Vladimir Putin took everything to do with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Svetlana Ganushkina, chair of Civil Assistance Committee and board member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, was one particular eye-witness to just such an attitude on the part of the current Prime Minister towards the former head of the disgraced oil company. In an interview with the present author, Svetlana Gannushkina said: “Not one trial related to the Yukos affair has been objective and impartial. It became particularly evident to me in 2003 when Khodorkovsky’s name cropped up in a meeting between the Presidential Commission on Human Rights and Putin. The then-President took this trial and the individual concerned very personally. He spoke about the trial in an extremely agitated fashion, his manner was not business-like at all.”

Vladimir Putin also revealed his emotional attitude to Mikhail Khodorkovsky at a meeting of the Valdai discussion club on 6 September 2010. Adam Michnik, editor of the Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has testified to this. According to Michnik, while Putin was talking about the ‘Khodorkovsky affair”, he manifested ‘personal emotion.’ In answer to other questions, Putin replied in a calm voice and joked, but in answer to questions about Khodorkovsky, the journalist noted, Putin’s tone changed sharply.

It is, of course, possible to say that the European Court has not yet taken the view that Yukos has become the victim of corporate raiders because of the personal enmity of Vladimir Putin towards the company’s chief proprietor. But this is only just the beginning.
Rights in Russia,
27 Sept 2011, 03:29