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  • Documents on Democracy


Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company, who was sentenced to nine years in prison for fraud in May 2005, was put on trial for fraud for a second time. Excerpts from his November 10 closing statement at the trial appear below:

I can recall October 2003. My last day as a free man. Several weeks after my arrest, I was informed that President Putin had decided I was going to have to “slurp gruel” for eight years. It was hard to believe that back then. . . .

I do not want to return to the legal side of the case at this time. Everybody who wanted to understand something has long since understood everything. Nobody is seriously waiting for an admission of guilt from me. It is hardly likely that somebody today would believe me if I were to say that I really did steal all the oil produced by my company. But neither does anybody believe that an acquittal in the Yukos case is possible in a Moscow court. Notwithstanding, I want to talk to you about hope. Hope is the main thing in life.

I remember the end of the 1980s. I was 25 then. Our country was living on the hope of freedom, hope that we would be able to achieve happiness for ourselves and for our children. We lived on this hope. In some ways, it did materialize, in others, it did not. The responsibility for why this hope was not realized all the way, and not for everybody, probably lies with our entire generation, myself included.

I remember too the end of the last decade and the beginning of the current one. By then I was 35. We were building the best oil company in Russia. We were putting up sports complexes and cultural centers, laying roads, and resurveying and developing dozens of new fields; we started development of the East Siberian reserves and were introducing new technologies. In short, we were doing all those things that Rosneft, which has taken possession of Yukos, is so proud of today. [End Page 180]

Thanks to a significant increase in oil production, partly as the result of our successes, the country was able to take advantage of a favorable oil situation. We felt hope that the period of convulsions and unrest was behind us at last, and that, in the conditions of stability that had been achieved with great effort and sacrifice, we would be able to peacefully build ourselves a new life, a great country.

Alas, this hope too has yet to be justified. Stability has come to look like stagnation. Society has stopped in its tracks. But hope still lives. It lives on even here, in the Khamovnichesky courtroom, when I am already just this side of fifty years old.

With the coming of a new president (and more than two years have already passed since that time), hope appeared once again for many of my fellow citizens too. Hope that Russia would yet become a modern country with a developed civil society, free from the arbitrary behavior of officials, free from corruption, free from unfairness and lawlessness.

It is clear that this cannot happen all by itself or in one day. But to pretend that we are developing, while in actuality we are merely standing in place or sliding backwards, even if it is behind the cloak of noble conservatism, is no longer possible. . . .

I think all of us understand perfectly well that the significance of our trial extends far beyond the scope of my fate and Platon’s [Lebedev], and even the fates of all those who have guiltlessly suffered in the course of the sweeping massacre of Yukos, those I found myself unable to protect, but whom I remember every day.

Let us ask ourselves: What must be going through the head of the entrepreneur, the high-level organizer of production, or simply any ordinary educated, creative person, looking today at our trial and knowing that its result is absolutely predictable?

The obvious conclusion a thinking person can make is chilling in its stark simplicity: The siloviki bureaucracy can do anything. There is no right of...


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pp. 180-186
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