Friday, December 27, 2013

Compassion or Pragmatism: Khodorkovsky is Freed

The power of personal diplomacy should never be underestimated, as Hans-Dietrich Genscher's heroic work to free Mikhail Khodorkovsky shows. Ascribing motives to a person is most often a fool's game, and the theory that President Putin freed Khodorkovsky to curry favor for the Sochi Games seems ridiculous. Compassion? Putting an end to a story that has run its course? 

President Putin wasn't under any compulsion to enter into the discussions that eventually led to the release of interesting, complex, business savvy, and ruthless oligarch who is Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  He is certainly not a saint by any means.  It does seem that Herr Genscher's personal communications style engaged Russian President Putin in a long running conversation that resulted in Khodorkovsky's being freed.  

Elements of pragmatism and compassion were probably both part of the mix.  Germany and Russia have substantial long-term economic interests in what might be called the broader Europeanization of their relationship.  This is most probably why Chancellor Merkel lent her blessing to the Khodorkovsky conversation.  She is most certainly a pragmatist. 

One of the best and most incisive summaries of the whole Russian oligarchic system and economic reform is contained in a London Review of Books article by Keith Gessen. Let's hope that a real economic discussion of cooperation between Russia and Europe is a staple in the business news for 2014.

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