Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Playing Russian Roulette

Standing at the Berlin Wall in the twilight of his second term, a defiant Ronald Reagan shouted for Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “Seek this gate..tear down this wall.” With the crumbling of the wall in ’89, the subsequent pimping of its grafittied pieces in gift shops around the globe and the inevitable crumbling of the Red empire, people began to relegate the Soviet era to the dustbin of history. Sweet bells of freedom ringing in Russia? Not quite. The story of Yukos, the crushed Rusky oil titan that could, has brought shrinking liberties imposed by one Mr. Vladimir Putin’s reign into sharp, painful focus.

Normally there’s nothing I like better than watching a good Sotheby’s auction, heart thumping wildly as twinkling gems and fine art the size of small elephants are sold off at what Paris Hilton would consider to be rock bottom prices. The December 20 Soth auction of Yukos’ largest subsidiary however was quite a different matter; a Malatov cocktail that set off my ulcer-prone stomach as I saw yet another undeniable sign that democracy in Russia is fading away. Message from Putin to the Free Market: He’s just not that into you. 😕

Yukos’ former head, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been haplessly sitting in jail for the last 18 months on hopped up charges of tax evasion to the tune of $27.5 billion. Many speculate that his voice was quashed because he a growing political force to be reckoned with in a one-sheriff Putin town. Since his very first day behind bars, I’ve thought that if I could, I’d launch a full-scale “Free Khodorkovsky!” campaign and not just because Khodorkovsky would be great fun to print on a T-Shirt. Rabid lawyer Gloria Allred and Wynona Ryder of course, would help me speak out for the cause.

Unusual though he is, Khodorkovsky is the very epitome of a man wronged. That’s not just my opinion, it’s common sense. Just look at his once shining corporate empire, now mere baby steps away from Kremlin control, giving them control over oil reserves six times that of Exxon Mobil Corporation with 1.5 million barrels pumping out daily.

What kind of a world do we live in where, a majority of Yukos, can be sold to a previously unknown bidder whose small headquarters are run out of the local watering hole “Café London” in the teensy town of Tver, Russia? I’m betting Tver is smaller than Mooseport for God’s sake! Never fear though, the former Yukos company has now come under control of Putin’s deputy chief of staff who through a corporate board seat, now fancies himself an oil baron. Does this sound like the kind of senseless pinch those Apprentice show amateurs would get themselves into, or is it just me? Lucky for them, they see the error of their ways when Carolyn, George and the Donald lecture them at the end of each episode. Not so for Putin and his pals.

While Vlady says of the Yukos debacle “the state was getting its due,” his nemesis Khordovsky asserts it is “selective justice and the most senseless and destructive event in the economic sphere since Putin has taken the helm.” I’d have to agree. Will Stalin’s Second Revolution and it’s collectivist economic ideals come back to Putin’s Russia? Let us hope not. But then, leg warmers have resurged and are again on the shelves here in the Ol’ US of A, so I must conclude that it is possible for most ANYTHING to come back into vogue. While we all say Nyet to the Five-Year Plan revisited, check out our man Khodorkovsky’s latest kernels of wisdom.

Long may freedom reign!

Signed in Solidarity to My Yukos Comrades at Arms,

P.S. Don’t pass this around to your fellow bloggers and friends. I value my cute, unblemished Strawberry Shortcake face just the way it is, thank you if you catch my not so subtle orange scarf drift.

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