Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Europe Is Afraid Of Russia"

Hufvudstadsbladet, Helsinki

“Europe afraid of Russia”

Published: 17/05/06 21:19

[my tr. from Swedish]

“The Europeans don’t dare to say anything, even though Russia is violating human rights,” claims Robert Amsterdam, lawyer of the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He hopes that Finland, as the next EU chair country, has left Finlandization behind.

Robert Amsterdam engages in lobbying, and does not allow Western politicians to forget that Russian President Putin’s ex-rival Mikahil Khodorkovsky is serving what many political observers see as a political sentence in a Siberian prison camp. But he admits that the chances of obtaining a new trial are slim.

“Our only chance is to appeal to the outside world. If the decision-makers claim to support human rights they must force Russia to respect international agreements,” Amsterdam told Hbl.

“But Russia is twisting the EU round its little finger.”

As an example, Amsterdam mentions Rosneft boss Sergei Bogdanchikov’s speech at a recent economic seminar in London attended by dozens of European politicians and investors. Rosneft is the formerly state-owned oil company which hijacked the greater part of Khodorkovsky’s company Yukos in a forced auction – according to Western analysts, acquiring it for a ridiculously low price.

“No one asked a single question, even though Rosneft increased its own market value six times in the course of a year and bought assets worth 9 billion dollars which the company is now selling for 45 billion,” Amsterdam says.

“The problem is that Europe treats Russia like the Soviet Union, even though the size of the country’s economy is in the same class as Holland’s. Russia needs European currency far more than Europe needs Russian energy.”

Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax fraud and the Russian state split up his company, but Amsterdam points out that other businessmen who have become rich in the same way in connection with Russian privatisation walk free. He takes this as proof that Khodorkovsky’s trial was politically motivated.

“Everyone was doing the same, but Khodorkovsky was convicted. For example, Sibneft was also suspected of tax fraud, but in the end the Russian state bought back the company.”

Billionaire Roman Abramovich sold his share in Sibneft to state-owned Gazprom, and got a hundred times more for it than he originally paid. But he has good contacts in the Kremlin and, unlike Khodorkovsky, hasn’t let it be known that he is challenging Putin for political power.

According to human rights organizations, Russia is violating human rights, restricting press freedom and persecuting dissidents. Several Western politicians have warned Russia against winding up its democracy and market economy.

“This is not just about Khodorkovsky but about dozens of new political prisoners,” says Amsterdam.

He mentions cases which have attracted attention, such as that of Svetlana Bakhmina, the young Yukos lawyer who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to seven years’ hard labour. Ex-FSB agent Mikhail Trepashkin was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment after the police found illegal weapons in his car – he had uncovered the trace of the security services as he was investigating the bomb attack in Moscow which led to the second Chechen war.

Amsterdam is visiting Finland in order to meet parliamentarians and to prepare himself for Finland’s EU chairmanship. He plans to lobby intensively during the next six months.

“Finland must leave its own Finlandization behind. I hope that the Finnish decision-makers’ knowledge of Russia will mean that Finland’s chairmanship will lead to better results than those that have been achieved by recent chair countries.”

Marcus Lindqvist

09-1253 228
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