On October 25, 2003, Russia’s path to a totalitarian kleptocracy was cemented with the arrest of Russia’s wealthiest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at Novosibirsk Airport. Khodorkovsky’s Yukos Oil Company was seized and was subsequently cannibalized by Vladimir Putin and his associates. On May 31, 2005, Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison. Having served most of his time, Khodorkovsky is in Moscow waiting to be sentenced to a new term under new charges. He will likely not emerge from prison until he is an old man.
In dealing with Khodorkovsky, Putin has taken a page from Stalin’s book. Stalin charged his political enemies with imagined Nazi espionage, poisonings, and political assassinations. Although Yukos paid more taxes than all other Russian oil companies combined, Khodorkovsky was sentenced in 2005 for tax fraud. The fantastic new charge against Khodorkovsky is that he personally stole the entire production of Yukos – quite a feat, given that Yukos was audited by Price Waterhouse and its production accounted for.