Khodorkovsky Faces Kremlin

By Erica Marat

On February 20 for roughly 30 minutes, a large banner featuring images of the imprisoned former CEO of Russian energy giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hung facing the Kremlin until Moscow police took it down. The interesting aspect of the banner was that Putin, not Khodorkovsky, was depicted behind bars in the images.

In the spirit of provocation, activists from the Russian youth movement “We” hung the banner, which depicted the images and the words “Time to change”, some 50 meters away from the country’s symbol of power.

According to “We” leader Roman Dobrokhotov, there were no police around to stop the hanging of the banner. Minutes later, however, police officers were on the scene and tried to prevent anyone from photographing the banner. Roughly half an hour later the banner was taken down, but Russian photographers were able to capture its image and spread it across social networking websites.

Over the years, Khodorkovsky has crafted a succinct message about his imprisonment. Through Twitter and his website, Khodorkovsky shares his thoughts with the wider public. The number of sympathizers for him in Russia and across the world dramatically increased after his second trial earlier this year when Khodorkovsky’s prison term was renewed until 2014.

New details of the second trial became available as Natalya Vasilyeva, an assistant to Judge Viktor Danilkin, who found Khodorkovsky guilty, revealed the court was under strict control of Russian authorities. She claims that the verdict Danilkin read in court was not written by the judge himself.

Although the banner has been taken down, Russian opposition movements use the example of Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment to illustrate the oppressiveness of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev’s regime. In their latest Washington Post op-ed piece, the co-chairs of the opposition People’s Freedom Party called on the United States to “discontinue their kisses-and-hugs ‘Realpolitik,’ which has failed, and to stop flirting with Russian rulers.”

“It is unfair when a man who could be accused of many more criminal charges than Mikhail Khodorkovsky is ruling the country,” said Dobrokhotov.