The billionaire former head of Yukos oil, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was sentenced to a further six years in prison in a trial that has been viewed as being largely orchestrated by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to eliminate a potential opponent who might challenge his return to power for the Russian presidency in 2012.
Khodorkovsky rose to become the wealthiest man in Russia, rising to #16 on FORBES list. And in many ways was viewed as being a lot like the Russian Bill Gates for being known for his philanthropic efforts. However, it was his close association to the Communist Party organizations, Komsomol, The Communist Party Of The Soviet Union and also The Communist Party Of The Russian Federation, of which helped him to achieve his wealth, and which he paid back through large political donations, which made him an enemy of Putin’s United Russia Party. Khodorkovsky also donated to the social liberal political party, Yabloko, as well.
The charges and trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, claimed that he stole $30 billion in oil from Yukos and laundered the money. However, many world observers including in Washington viewed the charges as highly suspect, being orchestrated by Putin, and as a way to silence a political critic.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had promised judicial reform, where the courts would become independent of the government that Putin controls, but so far that just hasn’t happened. Putin uses the legal at will to suppress his political opposition, proving that modern Russia is hardly yet a true democratic state. Yet, Putin and his supporters are viewed as political conservatives compared to the more leftist opposition parties in Russia. But, United Russia is viewed as holding on to power by tight controls on the press and abuses of the legal system such as the trial of Khodorkovsky.
Russia might have a strong rising class of billionaires, however the lack of true freedom in the country, along with the continued strength of the Communists as the second most powerful opposition party, despite their decades of terrible rule, makes the country very undesirable to many foreign investors where economic investment in China looks far more attractive by comparison because of much better political stability and predictability. Certainly, most in Russia want the economy to advance for the sake of jobs and economic expansion, yet the cat and mouse struggles of United Russia and their Communist opponents only hampers true economic progress.
In the U.S., some like Bill Gates become the most admired citizens. In Russia, billionaires of the same caliber often become political prisoners unless they support Putin’s political rule.