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Opinion: Khodorkovsky verdict is poison for reform efforts

The guilty verdict in the Khodorkovsky trial comes as no surprise and was politically motivated. Its repercussions could be widespread, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

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The guilty verdict in the trial of the former Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, comes as no surprise. This was far from a free and fair trial, instead it was politically motivated. Sentencing has not yet been handed down but it's expected that the two men will be jailed until at least 2012 - the year of the presidential elections - if not until 2017.

Many observers say that the former president and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was the driving force behind the guilty verdict. Khodorkovsky was first jailed on tax evasion charges in 2003 and many believe that Putin wanted to punish Khodorkovsky for his perceived meddling in Russian politics and his anti-Putin stance.

Deutsche Welle Russische Redaktion Ingo Mannteufel

Ingo Mannteufel, head of DW's Russian Service

In the run-up to the current verdict, Putin publicly called for a guilty verdict, describing Khodorkovsky as a thief. Politically, not the best of moves, considering that Moscow was so keen to give the impression of a fair and independent trial. President Dmitry Medevedev's remarks were more circumspect when he said that no one - not even a president or any other high-ranking official, like Putin - should comment on the current legal proceedings.

No doubt Medvedev was already thinking of the political implications of a guilty verdict. The questionable legal proceedings have dealt his reform and modernization efforts a heavy blow, and beyond that they could affect relations with the West. The Russian leadership is seemingly unaware that any reform can only be accomplished with the necessary legal and constitutional framework, fancy PR campaigns and speeches won't do the trick. Indeed, the trial has reinforced the perception in the West that Russia lacks many basic and constitutional rights.

However much Germany, Europe and the US are interested in having good ties with Moscow, there is a growing feeling that a Russia shaped and formed by Putin cannot be trusted. No doubt US President Barack Obama, who managed to push through the START arms reduction treaty with Russia last week, will be on the receiving end of such criticism.

The West may have readily embraced Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as symbols for a free, democratic and just Russia. Their current treatment and the clearly politically motivated nature of their trial has now led many Russians to look up to them as heros in a battle against a corrupt and arbitrary regime.

Ingo Mannteufel is head of DW's Russian Service

Author: Ingo Mannteufel (rm)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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