Books on Russia
Another Russian ‘revolution’ in the
There are signs, possibly premature, of a
split right in the heart of the Kremlin,
namely between President Dmitry Medvedev
and his predecessor (and successor?) as
head of state, Premier Vladimir Putin. The
former is clearly a more liberal figure,
the latter a caricature of Russian
autocracy, with a latter day
liberal-democratic dross of course.
There is a very important election coming
up next year, a presidential one, that
will decide who really rules Russia.
Medvedev is giving out indications that he
wants to remain, not just formally, but
actually in charge, namely winning the
election in the autumn – and divesting
himself of his nemesis, Premier Putin.
This would make a mighty difference were
it to happen. At last Russia would perhaps
sooner rather than later, join the true
liberal democracies, with an independent
rule of law, a crucial hallmark of the
A new event
Occasionally something happens that
heartens the human soul. Somebody standing
up for freedom and democracy, the rights
of men - and those of women too, why not?
Nelson Mandela did it in his time. So does
Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma in hers.
It can lighten up a whole political
landscape. Why was she allowed to do so?
The intriguing thing is that Medvedev may
have had something to do with it.
This is happening in a dramatic way in
Russia right now - and let us celebrate it
as a wonderful exhibition and embodiment
of the human spirit. It is a woman in fact
who is standing tall.
Vasilyeva the valiant
She is clearly an utterly remarkable
person. She is certain to lose her job -
and suffer further afield, but is
determined to speak the truth and say it
out loud, whatever the consequences.
She is Natalya Vasilyeva, who is on the
inside of a key trial of strength between
the powers- that-be and those against.
She is - or rather was - an assistant to
the legal stooge of the Kremlin in the
business, Viktor Danilken. The trial was
held in December.
The guilty verdict then against the oil
tycoon and Kremlin critic was ordered from
above and written by a judge who did not
try the case, she said. Her natural
indignation at unnatural justice is clear
for all to see. Natalya Vasilyeva, in an
interview she claimed was certain to spell
the end of her career, said: "I can say
that all of legal society understands
perfectly well that this is a
made-to-order case, a made-to-order
Vasilyeva was assistant to Danilkin, who
in December found Khodorkovsky guilty of
theft and money laundering in the second
case against the billionaire, who has been
in jail on fraud charges since 2003. The
tycoon's lawyers and supporters have
repeatedly denounced the trial as a farce,
alleging that Danilkin – who extended the
prison sentence until 2017 – had been put
under pressure by the Kremlin.
Vasilyeva's interview – published in
Gazeta.ru, a respected liberal online news
portal, and shown on TV Rain, a cable
channel said to be close to the liberal
circle around President Dmitry Medvedev –
marks the first time someone from the
court that tried the case has spoken out
against the trial.
Vasilyeva said Danilkin was required to
seek approval for every step he made
during the 20-month trial with the Moscow
city court. That included the writing of
the verdict, which was initially set to be
handed down on 15 December.
"Danilkin began to write the verdict,"
Vasilyeva said. "I suspect that what was
in the verdict didn't suit the higher
authorities. And that's why he got a
different sentence, which he then had to
"That the sentence was brought from the
Moscow city court, I know for absolute
certain," she added.
The reading of the verdict was delayed
until 27 December so higher court
authorities could write the new verdict,
she said. Danilkin was summoned to the
Moscow city court on 25 December and when
he returned to his courthouse looked "very
stressed," Vasilieva said, citing people
who saw him that day. "He might have been
physically ill and was clearly very
depressed," she said, noting he had
earlier shown signs of developing heart
She said Danilkin had become a changed man
after the reading of the verdict. "He's
become withdrawn, he's depressed and just
Shortly after the interview was released,
Danilkin described its contents as
"I firmly believe that Natalya Vasilyeva's
statement was no more than libel which can
be refuted in an order established by the
law," the judge told the state news
Anna Usachyova, a spokeswoman for the
Moscow city court, said Vasilyeva had
resigned before giving the interview and
questioned her motives. "Natalya
Vasilieva's statement is a provocation.
It's clear straight away that the girl is
unfamiliar with the procedural foundations
of the law," Usachyova told RIA-Novosti,
another state-run news agency. "Judge
Danilkin heard the case for two years and
could only write the verdict himself."
Vasilyeva said she was certain she would
be fired after coming forward, and also
said she feared for the fate of the judge.
Explaining why she chose to speak out, she
said it was because she was disillusioned.
"I wanted to become a judge," she said.
"But when I saw its internal workings, how
everything happens, then the fairytale
that the judge is answerable only to the
law and nothing else melted away.
"I wanted people to understand that a lot
of what is told to them is cleaned up and
fixed up and doesn't always correspond to
Critics of the Kremlin have held up the
case against Khodorkovsky as a prime
example of Russia's corrupt legal system.
Medvedev, a former lawyer, has vowed to
reform it but has taken few concrete steps
to do so.
Khodorkovsky's supporters insist the case
against him was orchestrated by Vladimir
Putin, now prime minister. They have
appealed the latest verdict. State
prosecutors have hinted that they might
seek a third set of charges against
Khodorkovsky, which would extend his
sentence even further.
Yet in recent weeks, Medvedev has ordered
his human rights council, an advisory
body, to look into several high-profile
cases, including the one against the
jailed oil tycoon.
Some analysts have posited a split between
the circles surrounding Medvedev and Putin
as Russia gears up for a presidential
election early next year.
Yury Schmidt, one of Khodorkovsky's
lawyers, welcomed the interview. "This is
a woman speaking the truth," he said. "I
don't see any other reasons for it."
Khodorkovsky has been in jail on fraud
charges since 2003.