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Jailed Russian Tycoon Found Guilty Of More Crimes
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Jailed Russian Tycoon Found Guilty Of More Crimes

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Jailed Russian Tycoon Found Guilty Of More Crimes

Jailed Russian Tycoon Found Guilty Of More Crimes
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Imprisoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted on embezzlement and money laundering charges in Russia Monday. Khodorkovsky was once the richest man in Russia, and was nearing the end of an eight-year sentence for tax evasion. Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine, talks with Renee Montagne about the case.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

This morning diplomats are exchanging rhetoric that's reminiscent of the cold war. Russia's foreign ministry accuses the U.S. and European nations of trying to influence the trial of a jailed oil tycoon. That would be Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who's just been found guilty on new charges of embezzlement and money laundering. The Obama administration says yesterday's verdict raises worrisome questions about the rule of law in Russia.

It was just a few years ago that Khodorkovsky was Russia's richest man - a billionaire. But for the last seven years, he's been Russia's most famous prisoner.

Susan Glasser co-wrote a profile of him for Foreign Policy magazine, where she's editor-in-chief. And she joined us to talk about it. Good morning.

Ms. SUSAN GLASSER (Editor-in-Chief, Foreign Policy magazine): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: You know, why don't we begin by you giving us a thumbnail of exactly who this man is? As I've just said, he was the richest man in Russia. He ran and owned a huge oil company, had become a philanthropist. But he's hardly in the mold of someone like Solzhenitsyn, the traditional political thinker that ends up in the Gulag or in Siberia.

Ms. GLASSER: No question. This is a new era of dissident, if you will, for a new political era in Russia. But what's so extraordinary about Mikhail Khodorkovsky was that he in many ways typified the new class of businessmen who grew to prominence and extraordinary wealth in the 1990s in Russia. For many he was a hated figure, because of that. He was almost a symbol of the hasty privatization that left a very small handful of people extraordinarily wealthy. But Khodorkovsky then became a very interesting figure because he moved into the realm of politics, he tried to clean up his act. He tried to go Western in terms of how he ran his business and creating philanthropy. He once told us he was trying to act out three generations of capitalism in one setting. And yet, he challenged Vladimir Putin and that is the reason why he's been sitting in jail for the last seven years, and almost certainly, it's the reason why this new case was brought against him.

He was convicted yesterday in a Moscow courtroom. They are still reading out loud the 200 or so pages of the verdict and we'll see exactly how many more years he's sentenced to jail.

MONTAGNE: Now unlike Soviet prisoners, Khodorkovsky has been able to communicate with the outside world. I mean you write newspaper op-eds. He maintains a website. He has said to you, he's called this what, not Gulag but Gulag lite.

Ms. GLASSER: Well, that's exactly right. In the answers that he gave to us when we were writing our profile, he did refer to his circumstances as Gulag lite. After all, this is still a very wealthy guy. He had lawyers representing him not only in Russia but in the West. He has a Twitter feed. He has a website. You know, this is not Andrei Sakharov, back in the 1970s banished and almost disappearing without a trace. He's been on the cover of magazines in Russia. He gives interviews by special communication. And, in fact, in many ways, he's emerged as perhaps the most prominent political opposition to Vladimir Putin that there is today in Russia.

MONTAGNE: Although the average Russian, do they care about him at all or think about him at all?

Ms. GLASSER: Well, you know, that's a very interesting question. In fact, there was a WikiLeaks cable that came out from the U.S. Embassy that made the point that they think that the American estimation is that the average Russians are not all that interested in this and I think that's probably a fair reflection.

When we visited the trial last year at its midway point, they were very, very few people who were attending it. It had really dropped out of the news. In many ways I think Russians in general are still very much opposed to what they view as the unfair privatization that made men like Mikhail Khodorkovsky wealthy in the first place. At the same time there's a sense that even for Russian justice this has been a fairly over-the-top story of a lack of due process piled on one after the other.

When we talked to one of Russia's most famous modern novelists who'd become a friend of Khodorkovsky. We were talking about the craziness of the case. He said, you know, if I had written a novel like this nobody would have believed it.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Ms. GLASSER: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Susan Glasser and her husband Peter Baker are the authors of "Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin's Russia and the End of Revolution."

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