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Posted at 11:25 AM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Meanwhile, in the other Russia...

By Fred Hiatt

If prosecutors charge you with a crime in Russia, you have a 0.07 percent chance of being acquitted by a judge, according to attorney Vadim Klyuvgant. Those are considerably worse odds, he says, than you would have faced in Stalin's time.

Klyuvgant has good reason to have studied this question, since he is defending Russia's best-known political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky was an oil tycoon who dared challenge Vladimir Putin -- then president, now prime minister, still for all intents and purposes the czar. Putin decided in 2003, as Khodorkovsky recently recalled, that Khodorkovsky was going to "have to slurp gruel for eight years" -- in a Siberian labor camp. Now Khodorkovsky's eight-year sentence is almost up, so Putin is having him tried on new charges. These are in total, senseless contradiction to the previous charges, but that is in a way the point: to show that Putin can do whatever he likes, regardless of sense or law. The sentence is expected soon.

While Putin was traveling to Zurich on Thursday for "a day for rejoicing" -- Russia had won the right to host the 2018 World Cup -- lawyer Klyuvgant and his associates were making quieter rounds in Washington. Many people, from Elie Wiesel to U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), have campaigned eloquently on Khodorkovsky's behalf, but, as my colleague Jackson Diehl pointed out in a column last month, President Obama has been close to silent. ("I think it is improper for outsiders to interfere in the legal processes of Russia," Obama has said.) So I asked Klyuvgant whether it would be helpful if the White House spoke out more forcefully.

"Unquestionably yes," he said. "It would be not just important, but of great importance." Unlike in Soviet times, Klyuvgant said, today's elite makes money in Russia and wants to spend it in the West. That's why they pay great attention to how outsiders respond to internal developments and care a great deal about, for example, possible visa bans. And since this case is about more than one person, he said -- since it's about the rule of law and the sanctity of private property -- expressions of interest from outside would help not only Khodorkovsky, not only the cause of human rights, but Russia's economic development as well.

Like many Russians, Klyuvgant seemed a bit bemused by the western fascination with the supposed rivalry between Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. There's been speculation that a long additional sentence for Khodorkovsky would be a win for Putin, while a shorter sentence would be a win for Medvedev, who has talked a lot about the rule of law. In fact, Klyuvgant said, any sentence would be a win for neither man but rather for the corrupt and increasingly brazen bureaucracy.

By Fred Hiatt  | December 3, 2010; 11:25 AM ET
Categories:  Hiatt  | Tags:  Fred Hiatt  
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"United Forensic College" is allowing me to expand my career choices and earn a higher income in my chosen field of Criminal Justice

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