Arrests and Development
Russian Oil Tycoon Khodorkovsky as a symbol for the ongoing
struggle in development for Russia
“The instinct for political survival forces the authorities to
select their own oligarchs… Their blatant goal is to move their
own people close to the source of wealth…The old ones are sitting
near this wealth and won’t budge to make space. So they should be
pushed!” declared the Russian weekly paper Novaya Gazeta in
reference to the government’s actions in the recent arrest of oil
tycoon (and supposedly richest man in the former Soviet nation)
Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky. Arrested on charges of fraud, forgery and
tax evasion, Khodorkovsky (the head of the Yukos oil company) was
apprehended at gunpoint on Oct. 25 as his jet landed to refuel in
Siberia, according to a recent New York Times report by Erin E.
Arvedlund. Others at Yukos have also been arrested, and 44 percent
of the company’s shares have been frozen by the Kremlin, causing a
downturn in the Russian stock prices and evoking an outcry from
many who saw the act as a symbolic persecution of the new market
system in Russia.
The outcry, as seen in the quote from Novaya Gazeta, centers
around the perception by the more liberal media in the nation, many
of its citizens, and even some in the U.S. government that this is
not simply a case of prosecuting a corrupt business man, but rather
a case of political persecution and cronyism on the part of Russian
president Vladimir Putin.
Whether the accusations against Khodorkovsky are true or not,
the central issue in this whole scandal seems to be not so much the
charges themselves but rather the long-fermenting political,
economic and cultural clashes found in Russia in their
With the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall, characterized by Leslie
Sklair in “Capitalist Globalization in Communist and Postcommunist
Societies” as “the symbolic end of the Stalinist form of communism
that dominated” Russia and the other Soviet Bloc nations, trends of
the adoption of a more market-style economy expanded. The
transition, however, was and is not easy. In the early 1990s
especially, former Communist party officials still held most of the
power in factories and business, and those with party connections
were usually the only ones able to succeed as entrepreneurs. With
distrust of general market entrepreneurs still present as a
hangover from the recently departed communist system, many
small-business starters were arrested and jailed on accusations of
price gouging or missing the correct documents for business.
Of course, some of these so-called entrepreneurs indeed were
robbing the public at the time. At the “free markets” that sprung
up around Russia during this time, product sellers inflated the
prices for basic goods to incredible sums that most couldn’t
afford. Many of the new entrepreneurs during this time were also
either part of or in league with the growing Russian mafia powers.
This adoption of a more capitalist market economy, far from being
the positive step so eagerly anticipated by many, is clearly also
full of problems, Sklair argues.
With Russia situated between the two troubled socio-economic
systems, it is no wonder that this arrest has sparked feelings on
The arrest of Khodorkovsky seems to be yet another example of
this difficult transitioning process. A backer of two minor liberal
parties for the much-anticipated 2008 elections according to
Newsday and perhaps a presidential candidate himself, Khodorkovsky
represents the new more capitalist powers outside the Yeltsin-era
business cronies and Putin-run government. Attempting to hold onto
power politically and economically, the current Putin government
may have arrested Khodorkovsky for posing a threat rather than for
the charges levied against him.
With the recent descent found all over the country, and the
resignations within Putin’s own government in protest over the
issue, the suggestion of Dr. Lilia Shevtsova (as stated in a
meeting held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
that Khodorkovsky’s arrest is more a representation of troubles
between “the relationship between power and big business in Russia”
than anything else seems to be true.
Legitimate or not, this arrest of this big business man in
Russia has become a symbol of the political, economic and cultural
crises Russia is still facing today.
Meg is a graduate student at CSU. Her column runs every