Putin's real motive

Saturday, November 1, 2003

(Bern, Switzerland) Der Bund

The billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky is no little innocent. In the 1990s, as fantastic fortunes were being made overnight in Russia, Khodorkovsky was one of the most dangerous sharks in waters where only a few fish swam anyway.

But unlike other Russian tycoons, Khodorkovsky finally began to reform his business, Yukos, to meet Western standards and is, in Russian terms, pretty much an exemplary taxpayer. Before the campaign against Yukos and Khodorkovsky by the general prosecutor's office and the domestic secret service, Yukos was one of the few showpiece firms in Russia.

The campaign against Yukos undoubtedly results from a direct order from Russian President Vladimir Putin. His declared goal is to build up Russia's economy, but of course that's only good as long as the Kremlin's monopoly on power is not affected. In this case, Putin is forcing real or imagined enemies to their knees -- even if, as in this case, that makes frightened investors flee and the Russian stock exchange lose billions in a few days.

The Khodorkovsky case is probably only at the start. But it should serve to put right those optimists who believe that Russia under Putin has fundamentally changed for the better.

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