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New Trial Could Test Medvedev's Mettle

A new trial has started against former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The case, which opens a year and a day after President Dimitry Medvedev was elected, is being seen by some as a test of his commitment to reform.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is seen in a defendant's cage

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is Russia's highest profile prisoner

Khodorkovsky faces fresh charges of embezzlement and money laundering that would leave him facing another long jail sentence, if he is found guilty.

"This case of immense importance because of what it will say to all of us about where Russia is going," Robert Amsterdam, a defence lawyer for Khodorkovsky, told Reuters news agency before the hearing.

Khodorkovsky's supporters have long alleged that he was arrested at the behest of the then President Vladimir Putin and his backers. The oil tycoon had openly funded opposition parties such as the liberal Yabloko faction in the run-up to 2003 parliamentary elections to the Kremlin's displeasure.

The former Yukos boss, who is currently serving an eight-year sentence, has said that corrupt officials also wanted to carve up his business empire, which produced more oil than OPEC member Qatar.

Expectations lowered

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and First Deputy Prime Minister and President-elect Dmitry Medvedev talk with their heads almost touching

Two heads are better than one?

Medvedev, a former lawyer who was sworn in as president last May, has demanded a clean-up of the Russian court system since Khodorkovsky's sentence and criticised high-level corruption. But there have been few signs of any substantive change.

"The expectations were modest. It's not fair to say that he's disappointed them, but these expectations have become even more modest," said Andrei Ryabov from the Carnegie Centre in Moscow.

At an event to mark the first anniversary of his presidential election victory on Monday, March 2, Medvedev expressed what seemed to be a commitment to the line of his predecessor, whom he appointed to the post of prime minister shortly after taking power.

On stage with Vladimir Putin, Medvedev shouted "Together we can continue the course set by President Putin. Together we'll win. Hurrah!"

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