Prison for Putin foe
A Moscow judged sentenced Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to six additional years in prison on Thursday, after convicting him on theft and money-laundering charges.
Judge Viktor Danilkin said Khodorkovsky would serve a total of 13.5 years in prison, with credit being given for the time he has served since his arrest in Octobers 2003.
The President of the European Union Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, said the ruling was an "emblematic symbol" of Russia's failure to modernize.
"I am very disappointed," the former Polish premier said. "The trials of Mikhail Khodorkovsky were the litmus test of how the rule of law and human rights are treated in today's Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the ruling contradicted Russia's goal of moving toward a rule of law.
"The impression remains that political motives played a role in this trial. This goes against Russia's repeatedly expressed intention to strike a path towards the complete rule of law," she said.
A setback for Russia
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle echoed those claims, saying the trial threw "a critical light" on the development of the rule of law in Russia and the attempts to modernize the country.
"It is in Russia's own interest to take seriously the international public concern over the result and the course of the trial," the minister said.
The US also criticized the verdict against Khodorkovsky, who had adamantly denied the charges against him.
"We remain concerned by the allegations of serious due process violations, and what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
The verdict is seen by many as a blow to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, who has repeatedly emphasized that an independent judicial system is crucial to Russia's future.
No friend of Putin
Khodorkovsky fell out of favor with the Kremlin after challenging state control over oil exports and financing political opposition parties.
The former oil tycoon’s lawyer Yuri Shmidt said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was behind the heavy sentence.
"Putin signaled to the court who today is the boss and who today decides Khodorkovsky's fate and life," he said.
Putin had openly stated in a television appearance ahead of the sentencing that a "thief must be in prison," which many opponents saw as a directive to the court.
Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and the head of the now defunct Yukos oil company, was arrested in 2003 and convicted two years later on charges of tax evasion.
Author: Sarah Harman (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer