Russia’s Lawless Legality

When Dmitri Medvedev was elected as Russia’s president a little more than a year ago, he promised to do away with the “legal nihilism” in Russia. But fresh charges against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned former owner of the oil company Yukos - and the legal vendetta against all those who were close to him - demonstrate that the problem has not gone away.

MOSCOW – Colonel Yuri Budanov is a convicted rapist and murderer. After serving half his prison sentence for the rape and murder of an 18-year-old Chechen, Elsa Kungayeva, he was released last December.

Svetlana Bakhmina was a lawyer at Yukos, the oil company formerly run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In 2004, she was arrested and, in 2006, sentenced to six and a half years on embezzlement and tax fraud charges. Like Budanov, she applied for early release from prison in 2008. Her request was refused, as was her earlier plea in 2006 to suspend her sentence until her two small sons reached the age of 14 – a request she was entitled to make under Russian law.

Vasily Aleksanyan was Executive Vice President of Yukos, and, as a lawyer, defended Khodorkovsky and his partner, Platon Lebedev, after their arrest in 2003. He was subsequently disbarred and was himself arrested in April 2006. By that time, Aleksanyan was critically ill with AIDS, for which treatment was withheld. In December 2008, the Moscow City Court approved his release on bail of 50 million rubles (around $1,775,000 at the time).