US on Russian justice: “lipstick on a political pig”

A brutal state assessed as such by the US, a nation not adverse to backing countries that display an authoritarian impulse in support of Washington:

The trial of Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky shows the Kremlin preserves a “cynical system where political enemies are eliminated with impunity”, US diplomats say in classified cables released by WikiLeaks today.

Attempts by the Russian government to demonstrate the rule of law is being respected during Khodorkovsky’s prosecution are “lipstick on a political pig“, says a communique to Washington from the US embassy in Moscow in December 2009.

Khodorkovsky, 47, an oil tycoon who was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to eight years in jail for fraud two years later, will appear in court in Moscow today to hear the verdict in his second trial on embezzlement charges. Supporters of the man once Russia‘s richest say the Kremlin ordered the prosecutions in revenge for his funding of opposition parties.

Khodorkovsky could get up to six more years in jail at the end of his current sentence in October next year, if convicted. His business partner, Platon Lebedev, faces the same punishment.

While US officials have already publicly criticised the trial, which began in March last year, the baldness of the language in the secret cables is striking.

Writing to Washington in December last year, a political officer in the US embassy in Moscow noted that one international legal expert believes the trial judge is trying to give Khodorkovsky’s defence lawyers a chance. However, in a withering assessment, the officer adds: “The fact that legal procedures are apparently being meticulously followed in a case whose motivation is clearly political may appear paradoxical.

“It shows the effort that the GOR [government of Russia] is willing to expend in order to save face, in this case by applying a superficial rule-of-law gloss to a cynical system where political enemies are eliminated with impunity.”

The diplomat’s assessment reaffirms those made in US cables released earlier by WikiLeaks, in which Russia is described as a kleptocratic “mafia state” in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are inextricably linked.

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