The little dolls inside the matrioshka

Platon Lebedev, who has been behind bars since 2003, was about to end his term, which would have expired in May when, in reviewing his case, the court reduced his imprisonment to time served and instantly set him free. There is no reason not to join the chorus of “hurrahs”, but the real reasons behind his release are far from being understood.


Friends like brothers

Lebedev was imprisoned together with Khodorkovsky with charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. They are always referred as good friends, “but to each other we’re almost brothers”, Lebedev said in an interview for the Russian channel REN TV, straight after his release.

“Dear friends, after nearly 11 years, or more exactly 10 years, 6 months and almost 23 days, I have come home. The main reason why this terrible counting of days has stopped at last lies in your faithful and sincere efforts. I have no doubt about it”, Platon wrote in a statement published by his press-centre after his release. “Did we win? We definitely didn’t let them defeat us! However, there’s still much to do together. In fact, it all still lies ahead.”

Yes, it all still lies ahead. The Supreme Court, in fact, not only set him free, but also reviewed an order requiring Khodorkovsky and Lebedev to pay $521 million in unpaid taxes related to the case.


The deal of the century

In his blog, Andrej Illiaronov, a former advisor of Putin and now an active blogger, argued that Khodorkovsky and Putin reached the deal of the century: Putin freed Khodorkovsky on the condition that the former oligarch would convince other Yukos shareholders to reach a reduced settlement in The Hague’s arbitration court, where the Russian government risks damages that could exceed 100 billion dollars. In the meantime, the Kremlin holds as hostages Platon Lebedev and Alexej Pichugin, the latter a former bodyguard of Khodorkovsky who is facing a murder charge. Alexej Lebedev is now free. A coincidence?

“I’m quite skeptical about this theory”, said Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University and blogger at In Moscow’s shadows, “What is the point? If the big matrioshka is out, why do you worry about the little dolls inside? To keep the cohort in prison is just simply continuing to maintain the hostage to fort in an international public attention without any real advantage”


Connect the dots

I already wrote that who has viewed the pardon of Mikhail Kodorkovsky as a sign of goodwill and openness couldn’t be more wrong. Putin staged a coup de téâtre and delivered a strong message to any other head of state in the world: arbitrarily send to jail an oligarch for ten years is a form of absolute power, but giving pardon is a form of greatness.

While western presidents and head of state are tight to complicated system of government that limits their leading role, the autocrat Putin has a complete control over Russia’s guided democracy, i.e. not only its executive power, but its legislative, judicial and economic power as well, including the divine power of forgiveness. But today that more dots are scattered on the blank paper, a different design could appear linking all of them. As today, Pichugin is still in a Russian prison. But who cares of the little doll accused of murder? If the Kremlin lets an alleged murderer go free, then there would be even more dots to be connected, and the weird theory of the deal could look more real.