Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Power Vertical

Blowing The Whistle On The Khodorkovsky Case

Mikhail Khodorkovsky at his trial
Mikhail Khodorkovsky at his trial
What will now happen to Russia's latest whistleblower?

Natalya Vasilyeva is reportedly "on vacation" after revealing that the judge in Mikhail Khodorkovsky's recent fraud trial was pressured from on high into handing down a guilty verdict and stiff sentence.

Vasilyeva, an aide to Viktor Danilkin, the presiding judge in Khodorkovsky's trial, made her allegations in an interview published today in ""


"I can say that the whole judicial community understands very well that this is a made to order case and a made to order trial," Vasilyeva said, adding that top officials were concerned that Danilkin would not impose a sufficiently harsh sentence on Khodorkovsky.

Judging from Danilkin's conduct in the courtroom, perhaps those fears were justified.

During the long trial, which began in March 2009 and wrapped up in late December, Danilkin often appeared to be doing something remarkable for such a politically charged case -- considering it on its merits.

He treated Khodorkovsky with more respect than anyone dared expect. He admitted testimony from government officials who defended Khodorkovsky like German Gref, the head of Sperbank and Russia's former economy minister, and Viktor Khristenko, the former industry and trade minister.

And when the prosecution made mistakes and committed gaffes, he laughed along with defense lawyers and Khodorkovsky's supporters. Indeed, one wonders how anybody could keep a straight face throughout the trial give the ludicrousness of the charges -- Khodorkovsky was accused of stealing oil from his own company!

Welcome to Absurdistan.

"Danilkin began to write the verdict. I suspect that what was in that verdict did not suit his higher ups, and therefore he received another verdict, which he had to read," Vasilyeva said.

Vasilyeva said Danilkin was then summoned to the Moscow City Court on December 25, just days before he began reading the verdict, where he was to meet an "important person who had to give him clear instructions about the verdict."

On December 30, Danilkin sentenced Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev to 14 years in prison. The first eight years were to run concurrently with the eight-year sentences for tax evasion and fraud that the two had been serving since 2003 and which were set to finish this year. It was precisely the sentence prosecutors were asking for.

For his part, Danilkin dismissed Vasilyeva's allegations, calling them "nothing but slander." More ominously, Anna Usacheva, a spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court, accused Vasilyeva of carrying out a "provocation" and a "well planned PR act," adding that she was "certain" that "Natalya Vasilyeva will yet renounce her  comments."

She wouldn't be the first to do so. As I blogged here last week, after testifying in court that he falsified police reports on the New Year's Eve arrest of opposition figure Ilya Yashin, a move that severely embarrassed the authorities, Moscow police sergeant Artyom Charukhin later recanted his testimony.

Other recent whistleblowers who have stuck to their stories have found themselves in varying degrees of trouble (read journalist Aleksei Siderenko's excellent rundown here.)

Anastasia Volochkova, the socialite and former prima ballerina, has reportedly had her television show cancelled by Channel One after she revealed that she had been tricked into signing a 2005 letter denouncing Khodorkovsky.

Aleksei Dymovsky, the original YouTube cop who went public with corruption allegations against police in the Black Sea port town of Novorossiisk faced prosecution and harassment.

Mikhail Yeseyev, an investigator in the northwestern city of Ukhta, was prosecuted and sentenced to a penal colony after he accused police in November 2009 of falsifying evidence in an arson case.

Grigoriy Chekalin, Ukhta's deputy prosecutor, received an 18-month sentence after making similar allegations in the same case.

In her interview with "," Vasilyeva appeared poised and confident, albeit very aware of the gravity of what she was doing. When asked why she decided to go public, she replied: ""Because I am disappointed" in how the judicial process really worked.

"I wanted to become a judge. And when I saw how things really work on the inside, my belief that judges are subject only to the law and nothing else melted," she said.

Vasilyeva's motive is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking. Inspirational because Russia needs honest and sincere people like this in its judicial system. And heartbreaking because, well, Russia needs honest and sincere people like this in its judicial system.

"For a person who had good career prospects to suddenly ruin everything and make such a statement, I see no other motive but her conscience," human rights attorney Yury Shmidt, a member of Khodorkovsky's defense team told RFE/RL's Russian Service.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Mikhail Khodorkovsky,whistle blowers,Natalya Vasilyeva,Viktor Danilkin

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
February 16, 2011 02:35
Nice report. Just have to keep on chipping away at the truth. Sooner or later enough people like Ms. V. will grow sick of the lies and demand a better sort of government. Don't lose hope!

The Power Vertical Feed

In this space, I will regularly comment on events in Russia, repost content and tweets I find interesting and informative, and shamelessly promote myself (and others, whose work I like). The traditional Power Vertical Blog remains for larger and more developed items. The Podcast, of course, will continue to appear every Friday. I hope you find the new Power Vertical Feed to be a useful resource and welcome your feedback. More

15:34 November 26, 2014


So by now, we've all seen how passengers in Krasnoyarsk had to get out and push their flight out of the snow...

...and we've all seen the snarky Twitter memes this has inspired...

...but have you heard about onboard drunken onboard brawl that grounded a flight in Novosibirsk?

12:41 November 26, 2014


12:33 November 26, 2014


Via The Moscow Times:

A lawmaker on the State Duma's Defense Committee has proposed banning the import of French wines in response to Paris' decision to suspend delivery of the first of two helicopter carriers to Russia.

"Let's ban the sale of French wine in Russia," Deputy Vladimir Bessonov told Russian News Service radio on Tuesday. "Even talking about this can bring about desired results," he said, without specifying what these would be.

France, under pressure from its Western allies to cancel a 1.2 billion euro contract ($1.58 billion) with Russia for Mistral-class warships, said earlier Tuesday that it was suspending delivery of the first of two carriers because of Russia's meddling in eastern Ukraine.


12:21 November 26, 2014
12:20 November 26, 2014


12:18 November 26, 2014


From RFE/RL's News Desk:


By RFE/RL's Russian Service

The editor-in-chief of an independent Russian news website says he will seek political asylum in the United States.

Oleg Potapenko told RFE/RL on November 26 that he has arrived in the United States despite efforts by Russian authorities to prevent him from leaving the country.

Potapenko is editor of, a news site in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk that has reported about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

On November 12, the openly gay Potapenko and his partner were prevented from boarding a flight from Khabarovsk to Hong Kong after border guards said a page was missing from Potapenko's passport.

Potapenko says the page was cut out by a police officer who requested his passport for a check earlier that day.

He told RFE/RL that he had managed to leave Russia from another city, Vladivostok, on November 16.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia's actions in Ukraine are a violation of international law and a threat to peace in Europe.

Speaking bluntly in an address to Germany's parliament on November 26, Merkel said, "Nothing justifies the direct or indirect participation of Russia in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk."

She told the Bundestag that Russia's actions have "called the peaceful order in Europe into question and are a violation of international law."

But she suggested there was no swift solution, saying, "Our efforts to overcome this crisis will require patience and staying power."

Germany has become increasingly frustrated over Moscow's refusal to heed Western calls to stop supporting pro-Russian separatists who have seized control of large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in eastern Ukraine.

Close ties between Russia and Germany have been strained by the Ukraine crisis.

(Based on reporting by Reuters)


Ukraine has leveled fresh charges that Russia is sending military support to pro-Russian separatists in the east.

A foreign ministry spokesman said five columns of heavy equipment were spotted crossing into Ukrainian territory on November 24.

Evhen Perebyinis told journalists on November 25 that a total of 85 vehicles had been detected in the five columns that entered at the Izvaryne border crossing point from Russia.

"The Russian side is continuing to provide the terrorist organizations of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics with heavy armaments," said Perebynisis.

Separately, the Ukrainian military said one soldier had been killed and five others wounded in the past 24 hours as a shaky cease-fire declared on September 5 continued to come under pressure.

The six-month conflict in the east of Ukraine has left more than 4,300 people dead, according to the United Nations.

(Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters)



Russia has rejected accusations that it is planning to annex Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told RFE/RL’s Current Time program on November 25: “There can be no question about any annexations.”

Georgia and the West have criticized a "strategic partnership" agreement between Russia and Abkhazia signed on November 24.

Tbilisi condemned the pact as an attempt by Moscow to annex the region.

Karasin also said Russia will “continue sparing no effort, nerves, financial expenses” to make sure its neighbors “do not feel endangered.”

"As a large state and a powerful country, Russia is constantly responsible for stability on its borders and everything that is under way along its borders," he added.

Under the "strategic partnership," Russian and Abkhaz forces in the territory will turn into a joint force led by a Russian commander.


19:16 November 21, 2014


On this week's Power Vertical Podcast, we use the one-year anniversary of the Euromaidan uprising to look at how it changed both Ukraine and Russia. My guests are Sean Guillory and Alexander Motyl.

Latest Podcasts

About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or