My father’s message to Putin from a prison camp

Financial Times

His hands numb after queueing in the bitter cold outside, my father squeezes into a phone booth and dials my number. Thousands of miles away in the US, I hear his dear voice, still husky from the frosty Karelian air. His tone has its usual calm; his mood is upbeat.

We were speaking just days before Vladimir Putin’s presidential inauguration, yet we weren’t talking about what his third term would mean for Russia and its citizens. That much we already know based on the 12 years of his rule. Rather, we talked about what needs to be done in the years ahead, because the future of our country is no longer up to Mr Putin; it now depends on its people. The man in charge may not have changed, but we Russians have.

For me the struggle to make Russia a freer and more just society is personal. My father, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of Yukos, once Russia’s largest company, has been locked up for more than eight and a half years on false charges of embezzlement and tax evasion. His only crime was standing up to Mr Putin. He angered the Kremlin by financing opposition parties and denouncing the scale of corruption. I have not seen him since 2003, when I went to college in the US; he has never met my daughter Diana, who is now 2 years old.

I know that he is inspired both by the protest movement that marked last year’s rigged elections, and because tens of thousands of people across the country are expressing themselves in a peaceful and democratic way. We both wish we could have been there on the streets of Moscow with our fellow citizens. Yet our absence is emblematic of the troubles my country faces. Because of the lack of rule of law my father is in jail, with thousands of other persecuted successful businessmen. I remain abroad in self-imposed exile, unwilling to return to my own country, like thousands of other young Russians educated abroad. Many more are leaving Russia daily.

The brief pause in the “pack-my-bags-and-get-out” sentiment that was so common among people my age a couple of months ago was powered by the feeling that reforms could come overnight. Many subsequently became disenchanted when Mr Putin did not suffer defeat. Yet the protests will continue, reinforcing the idea that his ascension is illegitimate, and their momentum will be sustained by focusing on small goals rather than on the Kremlin itself.

This means challenging the self-serving interests of the siloviki, the “strong men” whose projects include building a highway as wide as six football pitches through the protected Khimki forest outside Moscow. It means registering opposition parties, which as of this month are able to form legally. It means publicising news of bribes or beatings on LiveJournal and Facebook, and signing petitions calling on the Kremlin to create a public, independent television station as promised.

The west should neither neglect nor underestimate its potential role in advancing freedom and democracy in my homeland. That includes supporting laws punishing human rights violators – such as the US Magnitsky Act – being debated in legislatures from Washington to London and Brussels. Such bills would restrict visas and banking access for human rights abusers, who so often want to park their money in the US or Europe.

This initiative goes further than just the case of Sergei Magnitsky, the whistleblower who uncovered a $230m bureaucratic fraud and for his troubles was sent to prison, where he died after being beaten and denied care. It also aims to secure justice against those who violated the rights of Yukos employees such as Vasily Alexanyan, who died last year. He had earlier been refused medical treatment when in prison unless he gave false testimony against my father.

In the next few months, as his own people display their frustration with him, Mr Putin will try to consolidate power. But try as he might, he cannot hold on forever.

A future democratic Russia will one day be established “on the premise that freedom is indeed better than unfreedom”, my father recently wrote, “and that a society of free people deals and will deal best with the challenges that humanity faces”.

The country has changed. It is no longer “stability and continuity at all costs” that the Russian people crave. Our country yearns for reform. According to some Russian human rights experts, as many as one in six Russian businessmen has been on trial, and prisons hold thousands of them – many of whom are victims of abuse of the criminal justice system through fabricated cases. The Levada Center think-tank estimates that in a given year more than 15 per cent of Russians bribe bureaucrats and other agents of this “new nobility”. The country is ruled by one party – United Russia – which anyone who wants to be sure of their business’s future has to join.

Mr Putin’s inauguration will shine a light once again on Moscow. But as we’ve seen in the past five months, Russians are learning how to rattle their chains. In two, maybe three years, we think these chains will be broken.

Russia 2012 is a different place to Russia 2004, the last time Mr Putin was elected president. Many people are asking this question: can he change for the good of the country?
It takes a remarkable leader to understand when to put aside riches, power and grudges and walk in step with the times. Mr Putin is not that man. Cosmetic legislation passed by the Duma promises of vast social benefits and a refocus on natural resource exports mean one thing: Putin 2012 will be more of the same man we already know. The country has changed but the man who is due to retake the highest office cannot.

When my father and I are finally able to speak in person, it may be in a strikingly different Russia. For us that day cannot come soon enough.

The writer is the eldest son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and former Yukos chief займ онлайн на карту без отказа быстрые займы на карту https://www.zp-pdl.com https://zp-pdl.com/online-payday-loans-cash-advances.php unshaven girls

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