A Russian court has found Mikhail Khodorkovsky guilty of embezzlement and money laundering, sparking both domestic and international denunciations of the Russian judicial system. Speaking on PRI’s The World, Nikolay Petrov explained that President Medvedev’s liberal rhetoric had given some hope that the Russian political and legal systems could be modernized. Khodorkovsky’s verdict, Petrov said, strikes the death knell for those hopes.
While only a minority of Russians has been watching the current trial, Petrov explained that domestic attitudes towards Khodorkovsky have changed significantly since the first trial, which started seven years ago. Then Khodorkovsky was generally viewed as an oligarch who made his fortune through illegal means and his trial was viewed as just. Now, Petrov said, Khodorkovsky is seen more as the victim of the regime. A lot of prominent Russians have been making appeals to the president on his behalf.
In terms of U.S.-Russian relations, Petrov stated that while the Khodorkovsky’s verdict will not significantly injure perceptions of Russia, it does undermine Western hopes that Russia will improve its political and judicial systems. Petrov added that both domestic and international observers who saw Medvedev as a modernizer were mistaken from the beginning; he described Medvedev’s role as ultimately more about public relations than reforming the system built by Vladimir Putin.