Streetwise Professor

December 13, 2014

Khodorkovsky As a Russian Cincinnatus? Cynical Machiavellian is More Likely.

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:41 pm

It has been almost exactly a year since Putin pardoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The ex-oligarch now lives an exile existence in Zurich. Of late, he has been much more vocal in expressing his views on Putin and Russia’s future.

Take for example this piece from Bloomberg that appeared yesterday. Khodorkovsky muses about Putin’s situation, given the oil price and sanctions-induced economic straits Russia finds itself in. He openly suggests that a coup is a real possibility:

“Putin has far less room to maneuver financially, which creates difficulties for him, and as a result the cost of any mistakes he may make could be critical,” Khodorkovsky, 51, said in an interview in Zurich, dressed casually in a sweater, jeans and sneakers. “For Putin, even $120 a barrel for oil is a problem because, with his system of rule, he can’t survive without the revenue from raw materials growing every year.”

. . . .

There’s at least a 50 percent chance that Putin won’t last the next decade, according to the former tycoon, who pins his hope on a coup by the Russian leader’s inner circle because in his view elections won’t bring about any transfer of power.

“I believe that the problem for Putin will come from within his own entourage,” he told Bloomberg yesterday. “For my country, it would be better if things happened this way than through clashes on the streets, as a palace coup would spill less blood.”

Knowing Khodorkovsky’s background, it is plausible that he is playing a Machiavellian game here, ostensibly pontificating about possible outcomes, but really intending to bring about that outcome, and using his words to advance that objective.

One interpretation is that he is waging psychological warfare against Putin. Note his remark regarding Putin’s entourage. He is stoking Putin’s paranoia and attempting to start a clan war, and believe me, especially where Khodorkovsky is concerned, Putin is paranoid: his reactions to Khodorkovsky can only be described as Pavlovian, and don’t think for a nanosecond that Khodorkovsky doesn’t know that.

If the coup comes to pass, Khodorkovsky can ride in as the white knight. He is plainly volunteering for the role:

In a scenario that Khodorkovsky acknowledges isn’t more than an outside possibility, this could open the chance for him to come back to Russia to head a transitional government that would steer the country for two-to-three years before stepping down after a free and democratic vote.

How generous and public spirited of him. Of course, in Russian history “transitional governments” tend to be transitions between one autocracy and another. Further, I understand completely time inconsistency and (non-)credible promises: it’s likely that two-to-three years would turn into twenty-or-thirty. At the end of the second or third year, one can imagine the excuses: “My work is not finished. The enemies of the people are still there and will return if I leave.” I cannot see him as a Russian Cincinnatus.

In other words, when predicting the future (a reprise of 1917) he is saying what he wants to come to pass. He is trying to hurry that along, and the economic crisis (or impending economic crisis) is an opportunity for him. The old Russian revolutionary idea of “the worse, the better” could well apply here.*

Like Putin, Khodorkovsky is an opportunist. He perceives that current events have created that opportunity. (I think it is likely that his conversion to becoming an advocate for corporate transparency and western-style governance was also opportunistic, rather than a Road to Jerusalem conversion: he realized that was the way to make Yukos attractive to a western supermaj0r buyer/investor.)

All that said, I believe-and wrote here often-that Khodorkovsky’s prosecution was a travesty of justice. Indeed, he was persecuted rather than prosecuted. His experience from 2003-2013 demonstrates the arbitrariness and evil of the Russian system under Putin.

But Khodorkovsky was not an angel. No man could have risen to where he did, and amassed the fortune that he did, in the Russia of 1990s without being utterly ruthless and without scruple. What probably set Khodorkovsky apart was that he is also incredibly intelligent. He is also very charismatic. I know two people who worked with him closely who are in awe of him. He clearly had a mesmeric influence on them. Putin’s palpable fear of the man also speaks volumes about his intelligence and personal magnetism. Ruthlessness married to charisma married to intelligence is a very dangerous combination.

Even if Khodorkovsky’s currently expressed sentiments are sincere, and he is not speaking out as part of a scheme to become Russia’s savior, if his scenario comes to pass it is highly doubtful that his lofty principles would survive a few months in power. A post-coup or post-revolutionary Russia would have no real institutions to check him. He would be surrounded by enemies. Russian politics has always been highly personalized and a-institutional. Every force would press him towards autocracy, personalized rule, and a cult of personality.

So as much as I sympathize with what he suffered, and as much as I would welcome the fall of Putinism, I don’t trust Khodorkovsky, nor do I think he is the man to lead Russia to the promised land, or even to its border. (And remember Moses never entered Canaan.) Indeed, I can readily see him using his martyrdom as a way of advancing his personal ambitions, and believe that many are blind to that possibility.

(Some of those who work for his foundation, and presumably believe in his agenda, are also passionate defenders of Urkaine against Putin’s predations. How can they be blind to his indifference to Ukraine?)

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Khordorkovsky is not attempting to influence events in Moscow from Lenin’s old neighborhood in Zurich. Perhaps he is just commenting as an intensely interested bystander to historic events.

If that’s so, he’s delusional. The idea that he would be welcomed as a leader who could achieve national reconciliation in the aftermath of a coup (let alone a revolution) is farcical. He is widely reviled in Russia. It would be interesting to see who is more hated: Gorbachev or Khodorkovsky. He is viewed as one of the pirates of the 1990s, indeed as the most dangerous of the lot. I would wager more people than not believe he got his just desserts in Chita (and elsewhere) after 2003. His only role could be as a behind-the-scenes wire puller.

What’s more, Khodorkovsky is delusional in his appeals to Russian liberals, and his appeals to the west to support Russian liberals. There are hardly any Russian liberals left in Russia. Maybe a few hipsters in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and a few pathetic hangers on here and there. Indeed, Russian liberals are widely despised, and inextricably linked with the traumas of the 1990s. They are viewed as thieves themselves, or accessories to theft-including Khodorkovsky’s.  Navalny’s nationalist rhetoric has a far greater resonance than Khodorkovsky’s liberal language.

Reading some things he has said recently also make me wonder about his connection with reality. Notably this:

Is there hope of being able to effectively deal with this threat? There is, and it stems from the very nature of the Russian bureaucracy, which is generally rational and apolitical. There are many people in the Russian establishment who are sober-minded, think rationally and, on the whole, are oriented towards European values. But today these people are being forced to submit to a political will that has been formulated by a criminally corrupt minority whose only goal is to hold on to power.

Russian bureaucrats are “rational and apolitical”? Who knew? Venal and corrupt is more like it, and quite comfortable operating in an arbitrary autocratic system. After all, the Party of Crooks and Thieves is first and foremost the party of the bureaucratic nomenklatura. “Sober-minded”? That is risible, both figuratively and literally. And as for their “on the whole [being] oriented towards European values”, I don’t think I’ve read anything so absurd in some time. The Russian bureaucracy is Muscovite to the core.

Indeed, these statements (and most of the rest of the speech in which they are found) are so ridiculous that it must be that Khodorkovsky recognizes they are, and hence is willing to say anything to achieve some purpose. The goo-goo nature of his specific recommendations (e.g., the promotion of cultural and educational exchanges between Russia and Europe) only reinforce that impression.

In sum, I view Khodorkovsky in the role of the serpent. Putin is a malign force, but there is too much in Khodorkovsky’s past and character to have any faith that he will fundamentally change Russia.

The fundamental problem is that Putin is far more symptom than cause. He is the current personal manifestation of a national culture and political system and tradition. It is hard to imagine any way of leaping the chasm from personalized, autocratic governance to a system built on strong institutions and the rule of law. The fundamental paradox is that no man-Khodorkovskyor anyone else-is likely to be able to do that.

In other words, we don’t have a Putin problem: we have a Russia problem. We are likely to have it for, well, pretty much forever.  And Mikhail Khodorkovsky is not the man to solve that problem, even if he is sincere in his statements that he wants to.

*This phrase is often attributed to Lenin, but is more likely traceable to Nikolay Chernyshevsky. It was used by Plekhanov in a newspaper article in July, 1917 that Lenin responded to.

 

 

 

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25 Comments »

  1. >>there is too much in Khodorkovsky’s past and character to have any faith that he will fundamentally change Russia.

    Especially when considering the fact that he has already publicly promised not to do so, by declaring that stopping the Russian occupation of Crimea would be “undemocratic”

    Comment by Ivan — December 14, 2014 @ 7:35 am

  2. I am afraid we are being too picky here. With all his more than obvious faults, MBKh is not a KGB man. And he is free of the ‘sovok’ mentality. And is not enamoured with the anti-Western ideology.

    Comment by LL — December 14, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

  3. When he is talking to the bureaucracy as if its some kind of Prussian import he is really saying “Hey guys, I know Putin keeps giving you raises but they are in worthless rubles, and now you cant even leave the country. Overthrow him and make me your king, we’ll go back to the way things were in 04, no Russian nationalism fantasies, just the return of your aristocratic status as nomenklatura and my Western supporters will cheer us all like they did Putin before the botox made him think he’s Catherine re-incarnated”

    Comment by d — December 14, 2014 @ 9:34 pm

  4. As a matter of interest, can anyone think of an example from history of a systemically corrupt country that recovered from it and became honest of its own volition?

    Offhand, I can’t. There is perhaps Nazi versus post-Nazi Germany, but that wasn’t a state that spontaneously healed itself. The bit that was occupied by three liberal democracies cleaned up, the other bit did not.

    I can also think of countries you wouldn’t consider corrupt today, but that in the past had institutions whose practices were suspect, and that were duly reformed. For example, Napoleon was both noble enough to get into royalist artillery school in Brienne aged 9, yet also proletarian enough to make it to brigadier-general of artillery in a republican army 1793 aged 24. Both regimes permitted the well-connected to fiddle their way ahead.

    England’s parliament likewise had a number of crooked boroughs such as Old Sarum (where exactly five voters returned two MPs) until 1832.

    In neither case though was the entire construction designed to be perforated completely by corruption from top to bottom. Not all French army officers were inept-but-connected fixers; most parliamentary constituencies were not fixes like Old Sarum; and so on. You had differently honest practices, but the good organically drove out the bad.

    In Russia I don’t see this, because the whole state does in fact appear to be crooked. What, for example, is the actual point of being a Russian lawyer? Once you have a few thousand Russian law graduates embedded into the state corpus, corruptly handing out jobs, convictions and pardons, how do you get them out again? Won’t each year’s intake be as bent as the current establishment?

    MK would be interested in the Putin job only on the same basis as Putin. Which as you say is no solution. Pigs/men, men/pigs – same thing.

    Comment by Green as Grass — December 15, 2014 @ 4:19 am

  5. As a matter of interest, can anyone think of an example from history of a systemically corrupt country that recovered from it and became honest of its own volition?

    No. I tried this thought experiment when I lived in Nigeria, trying to think of how a country where corruption, graft, and patronage is so deeply ingrained in the culture right down to the level of everyday, individual interactions could change. I came away with the conclusion that nothing short of a major war which removes a huge percentage of the population thus utterly destroying the basis of the culture and society would achieve it. The examples I came away with were Germany and Japan after 1945, S. Korea after 1953, and the American Confederacy after the Civil War. The common theme is a country that is utterly destroyed and the population utterly defeated and/or decimated.

    Both regimes permitted the well-connected to fiddle their way ahead.

    A lot like modern-day France then!

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 15, 2014 @ 4:55 am

  6. SWP: whether or not MK is Cincinnatus… – and I don’t follow his closely like you… his estimate of Putin’s demise is a simple reading of history in Russia with low oil prices. Economic fundamentals prevail over human efforts. MK is low-balling on 50% chance of Putin losing power.

    Comment by scott — December 15, 2014 @ 8:33 am

  7. @d and Tim Newman:

    What do you think of these 2 examples: Poland and Georgia?

    In fact, even during sovok times, Georgia was not only considered corrupt, but THE most corrupt country in the sovok union.

    Hard to believe, but it’s true.

    Poland went through a long period of reform, and has emerged as a strong country with a very good economy.

    Georgia is still going through its reforms, and people say the positive changes are notable.

    @SWP

    I can only think of Berezovsky and others who, once they fled from the Rasha, to Londongrad, carped and sniped at Putler.

    Boris Berezovsky even claimed that he funded the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

    On the other hand, the former mayor of Maskva, Luzhkov, also has a mansion in Londongrad. No carping from his end.

    And Simeon Mogilevych, a thorough gangster, lives in Maskva.

    Maskva is not Rasha.

    Comment by elmer — December 15, 2014 @ 9:30 am

  8. @ Tim Newman:

    South Korea is an interesting case. Before the end of WWII it had been a Japanese colony for decades, and was ruled in a brutal an corrupt manner. After liberation, the ruling elites in South Korea were for the most part those who had been collaborators with the Japanese. These business and military men kept the country under dictatorship until the late ’80s. The end of the dictatorship and shift to democratic rule was brought about largely by domestic political pressure and massive protests. Democratization in Korea has been reasonably successful, with both the major parties winning elections over the course of the last two decades. I wouldn’t say that corruption is not a major problem in South Korea though (or Japan for that matter either.) Leading political and business figures often spend some time in jail for corruption, and are usually quickly “rehabilitated” after.

    In terms of “self-democratization” however, I think South Korea may be a decent example.

    Comment by JDonn — December 15, 2014 @ 11:14 am

  9. >> Georgia is still going through its reforms

    erm, so far Georgia is more like a proof of Tim’s point: grand and fast reform of the state brought to a grinding halt by corrupt inertia of society at large

    Comment by Ivan — December 15, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

  10. JDonn got the example I was thinking off: Korea and Taiwan. Venal and corrupt, and out of 4 dictators (in Taiwan’s case 3 dictators I believe?) only one of them also advanced the economy yet he advanced it far enough that Democracy emerged even though corruption is still relatively high compared to the OECD. I am not sure the case of being a puppet of America alone qualifier either: Philippines wasnt just a puppet of America but a direct colony too but it stinks. Ditto Italy.

    I suppose all ex-Soviet occupied states in the EU now are examples of venalcorrupt states reforming just enough to be EU level corrupt: Poland is a good example because unlike say Czech Republic that had a history of being the leading economic state even pre-independence within AH and after independence as well, the Poles were slaves to the Russians yet managed to get rid of the mind trash. I think a lot of it has to do with aspirations of the people though, if you view yourself as genuinely European there is at least a certain push to achieve a certain European level of corruption — hence the two Ukraine revolts but if you have some kind of quasi Asiatic identity — and Russians no matter what they say do — then there is no push.

    The reality is when Russia collapses the next time the best solution is to figure out a way to get their nukes and then let them fester. No one was scared of Milosevic’s Yugoslavia once the West allowed his neighbors to buy real weapons. No one would be afraid of Putin’s Russia if it didnt have all those nukes.

    Comment by d — December 15, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

  11. “d” I don’t know if there is one political figure in the States that is thinking about the “next collapse of russia” and it’s loose nukes, perhaps some in the military are thinking and preparing for it. John McCain, might be one who sees that as a possibiliy and if so, it probaqbly has alot to do with his military backrgoung, except for him, no major political figure in the west has a military background. War is so 19th century.

    Obama got one thing right, ISIS is JV, ruSSia is SV though.

    Comment by traveler — December 15, 2014 @ 3:57 pm

  12. Can we really claim Germany, Japan, South Korea, the Confederate States, and Taiwan were all that corrupt? The Nazis of course were extremely corrupt, but their corruption was “limited” to despoiling a minority, it lasted only twelve years, and prior to them German culture was renown for its honestly and efficiency. Post 1945 Germany can be said to have reverted to its previous mean. Japan likewise was not considered to be very corrupt if you ignore its systematic pillaging of other countries. South Korea and Taiwan were known to have benefited from their Japanese administration, being noticeably less corrupt than Nationalist (or Communist) China. Even the KMT’s reign on Taiwan was far less corrupt than its tenure on the mainland because the destruction of the power bases of the other cliques allowed Chiang Kai Shek to enact the reforms on Taiwan he did not in China because of the elite political opposition. The Confederate States were no more or less corrupt than the southern states were before or after the Civil War. In all of those countries there was a long political tradition of adherence to the law or some other kind of honor code of loyalty and dutiful service.

    In none of these countries were there a long established, institutionalized culture of corruption as there is in Russia (and to be fair in other countries or regions like southern Italy). I don’t know enough about Communist Poland to gauge the level of corruption there, but nevertheless interwar Poland was not known as especially corrupt, and Polish people have had a long civic pride in the old Polish Commonwealth’s achievements.

    I don’t think the conditions yet exist for establishment of a law abiding democratic state in Russia. Russia is just too rich (so there is an incentive to pillage) and big (so that no one ruler can stomp out all or most centers of corruption). Before Russia reforms it needs both an example of what it could become (which is why establishment of a law based state in Ukraine is so important), and a long enough time to see how it benefits that example, and a negative comparison of Russia towards it. Even after Putin leaves the scene, a Russia governed by law is probably 30-40 years away.

    Comment by Chris — December 15, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

  13. @ Traveler: I don’t think many political leaders anywhere in the world, other than coup leaders, really have much substantive military background anymore. Even Putin was KGB, which isn’t quite the same thing. That American politics were for decades dominated by veterans is maybe more of a function of the fact that such a large number of the men in their generation had served in WWII (in at least some capacity, and many of them were actual combat veterans) than anything else. That isn’t to say that the shared experience of WWII didn’t have a significant effect. For instance it has been said that it did contribute to a greater degree of bipartisan civility and aversion to personal attacks amongst veterans out of mutual respect. I don’t really see how this can change, short of another mass mobilization. A President McCain might draw heavily upon his military background in office, but not only did he serve, he came from a family with a long history of service, and that perspective is something he was born into and has shaped his entire life. Very few of even the WWII generation were defined by there service in the way that McCain has been (Although again this maybe because it so widley shared). Would a President Hagel have the same perspective as a McCain? Likewise, if a veteran of the War on Terror becomes President, but the majority of Congress and the rest of the political establishment don’t have that same experience, how much of a difference will it make?

    Comment by JDonn — December 15, 2014 @ 5:21 pm

  14. @ Chris: I guess it depends on what you mean by corruption. Nazi Germany, post-War Korea, and pre-War Japan were all oligopolies where the lines between business and government at the upper levels were extremely blurry, in a manner similar to modern day Russia. There was no accountability or transparency, and there were powerful, but inefficient bureaucracies that devoted a large degree of their time and effort to internal power struggles and turf wars. Nazi efficiency is a myth, as evidenced by the large number of redundant institutions with overlapping areas of responsibility, and the vicious turf wars that resulted between for example, the party and state institutions, as well as the personal power struggles amongst the elites jockeying for power. This type of system can clearly be called “corrupt” even if it is not the only form of corruption we could talk about. In all, I think you give way to much credit to the Nazi and pre-war Japanese systems, which were significantly undermined by their internal weaknesses and compromised institutions.

    Comment by JDonn — December 15, 2014 @ 5:32 pm

  15. JDonn beats me to the answer again. Everything he said. The idea that corruption under Russian autocracy is more entrenched than under Japanese corruption is just wrong.
    But I do think there is a key difference between places like SK/TW and Russia. At least some members of the SK/TW elites realized they needed massive reforms as a basic survival mechanism vs their communist counterparts. Russia is much more like the Philippines, where the elite doesnt really view itself in a survival game vs. its opponents. Despite RTs and Putins and various heterodox communists leftovers from the 80s best efforts no one in charge really believes there is a NATO confrontation.

    Comment by d — December 15, 2014 @ 5:41 pm

  16. To further expand on what d has said about Korea, one of the significant differences between Korea and Russia is that since WWII the Koreans have viewed their population as their most important resource. The idea that, lacking significant natural resources (such as oil and minerals), the Koreans need to extract as much value from their population as possible is deeply ingrained in the Korean psyche. This idea was championed by Park Chung-Hee in the ’60’s and remains very powerful. Initially this meant working incredibly long hours for low wages as a form of patriotic sacrifice, but the promise was future economic development and prosperity in exchange. This lead to the importance placed on education and training for the subsequent generations. It was this increasingly educated population that demanded democratization, and student protests played a key role in bringing about change. Clearly in Russia there is no sense the the people need to be mobilized and educated in this manner, and I agree with d that this is due to a lack of any sense of urgency, either too respond to external threats, or due to a lack of alternative sources of economic growth.

    Comment by JDonn — December 15, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

  17. @scott-My point is that Khodordovsky’s statements could be viewed as mere commentary–or as something more pointed. What jumped out at me was his statement about Putin’s entourage. That seemed very calculated. Given the type of person Khodorkovsky is, and the obvious personal animosity he has for Putin, and his potential personal ambition (as much as he denies it), and it is reasonable to conclude that he is trying to create events rather than merely comment on them.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 15, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

  18. Some political scientists took a crack at explaining why Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea ended up with “developmental” as opposed to predatory states–i.e. where there was some rake-off corruption but economic growth was prioritized over cronyism, etc. Their conclusion was that a combination of circumstances making the regimes vulnerable in a particular way pushed these initially non-democratic states to be very interested in growth and rising typical incomes.

    http://home.uchicago.edu/~slater/files/Doner-Ritchie-Slater2005.pdf

    Main idea: Regimes that could only stay in power if they could maintain a broad coalition requiring side payments, and that faced an external threat requiring defense spending to compete with side payments, and that did not have an easy revenue generator in the form of oil or minerals, end up needing economic growth in order to afford the payments needed to keep their coalition on-board. That need for actual per-capita growth then drives them urgently to figure out ways to use government to promote development. At one point, raising shoemaking productivity was a national-security issue, discussed at cabinet level, for the KMT in Taiwan because of their need for foreign currency and for revenue to pay for defense and welfare.

    Comment by srp — December 15, 2014 @ 8:37 pm

  19. And for an interesting 1998 S. Korean perspective on how the government/bank/chaebol relationship had gotten out of line by the time of the 1997 crisis, there is

    http://www.wider.unu.edu/publications/working-papers/previous/en_GB/rip-19/

    Comment by srp — December 15, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

  20. Very nice article, thats exactly what I was thinking of. Elites in states under threat by bigger neighbors are able to have controlled corruption: Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Malaysia come to mind as countries that would be quite corrupt by North American standards but that look like paragons of virtue next to other states in their neighborhoods or Ruska. So in that sense Russia is cursed, by hitting that sweet spot of mid 20th century industrialization that allowed relatively easy catch up to the West — just a population that can read and write, a relatively cheap investment — they’ve come too ‘secure’ for any real pressure thanks to the ICBMs. So theyll continue to stagnate. The really interesting interpretation of the article will be in Ukraine — now that Russia has made it clear it wishes to see the country destroyed will the Ukrainian elites begin a reform project that will make them at least relatively competitive to their nearest neighbors and thus muscular enough to withstand Russian pressure.

    Comment by d — December 16, 2014 @ 12:44 am

  21. @elmer:

    What do you think of these 2 examples: Poland and Georgia?

    I’m afraid I know little about either, so never gave them consideration! Point taken, though.

    @JDonn:

    Fair remarks regarding Korea. I was not thinking so much of the transfer from dictatorship to democracy in the 80s/90s, more the transformation from peasant farming to industrial society.

    After liberation, the ruling elites in South Korea were for the most part those who had been collaborators with the Japanese.

    I read in Max Hastings’ book on the Korean War that the most brutal guards in the Japanese death railways were Korean collaborators. From my experience working with Koreans, a lot of them have a nasty, vindictive streak and think nothing of treating those beneath them like shit.

    @Chris:

    Can we really claim Germany, Japan, South Korea, the Confederate States, and Taiwan were all that corrupt?

    For my part, I wasn’t claiming they were corrupt. I was more thinking of situations where a society has been utterly, completely reformed root and branch in a very short space of time.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 16, 2014 @ 1:26 am

  22. For instance it has been said that it did contribute to a greater degree of bipartisan civility and aversion to personal attacks amongst veterans out of mutual respect.

    Also, military training does tend (to some degree) to temper the inner-asshole in a lot of people. Not that there aren’t proper assholes in the military, but the rigours of basic training (depending on the unit) means there is at least a grudging degree of respect for anyone who has come through it, and at some point everyone was the rookie with his face in the mud. It’s hard to find much to respect, grudgingly or otherwise, in a modern politician’s CV.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 16, 2014 @ 1:40 am

  23. On the subject of Khodorkovsky, I don’t think he’s got a hope of being Putin’s successor – and likely he knows it. I agree that he is simply throwing mischievous words out there, possibly in the hope they will encourage one or two of the wolves that are almost certainly circling in the shadows. Personally, I don’t think Putin’s successor will be motivated by politics: it will be somebody young, tough, and ambitious who feels that, after 15 years of Putin & Pals, it is somebody else’s turn to be in charge. Such a person will likely be extremely rich already thanks to a favourable position somewhere in Russia but outside of Putin’s circle, and will be motivated less by money than a simple desire for power. However, I also think it will be somebody whose personal fortune is being diminished by Putin’s policies, and he’ll be looking not so much to change Russia’s policies but to make sure his position does not backslide further by taking a huge gamble. I wouldn’t know who such a candidate would be, but I am sure there are several in Russia. And whichever ruthless bastard ends up taking over, you can be sure that we will see a rapid rewriting of history with a strong likelihood that Putin & Pals will be disgraced, jailed, exiled, or shot. But Kodorkhovsky isn’t this man.

    Comment by Tim Newman — December 16, 2014 @ 1:50 am

  24. Actually Ivan, there is very little to no low level corruption here in Georgia. I have been coming here since 2004, and have been living here since 2007.

    No bribing of police, no requests for bribes by the bureaucracy, clean and open banking and financial institutions.

    There is still a lot of “who you know” when it comes to things, but no more so than the “old boys network” you find in much of Europe or the “alma mater” in the US.

    Comment by Andrew — December 19, 2014 @ 4:11 am

  25. @Andrew

    > there is very little to no low level corruption

    but what is the victory of Georgian Dream if not political corruption? If kleptocracy takes root at the top, the low level will inevitably follow. Not to mention the fraught security situation and the high probability that some little green men will make slight corrections to democratic choice should it start deviating from Putin’s plan again. All I’m saying is that to me “still going through reforms” looks like a misrepresentation of the trend, which is stagnation with high risk of “reverting to the mean” of Russia-dominated space.

    Comment by Ivan — December 22, 2014 @ 3:36 am

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