Khodorkovsky: British PM Should Discuss Corruption on Russia Visit

Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Source: AFP/Getty ImagesOn the eve of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Russia next week, jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky spoke to the Telegraph about issues he hoped would be raised – including corruption, the independence of the judicial system, and the protection of human rights.

Andrew Osborn: How would you advise David Cameron to deal with Mr Medvedev and Mr Putin during his visit? Which issues of concern do you think he should raise in particular and how?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: I have always believed that there are many areas where the UK and Russia can be partners in a way that benefits both nations. Prime Minister David Cameron and President Dmitry Medvedev are representatives of one and the same political generation, the one that came into its own after the Cold War and the era of global confrontation between the superpowers had ended. For this reason alone it is perhaps easier for them to reach agreement, having found points of contact and compromises with respect to the majority of questions during the British Premier’s upcoming visit to Moscow.

As things stand today, it seems to me that Dmitry Medvedev has a sufficiently realistic assessment of the current situation in Russia. Although in terms of economic and political reform little has changed over the 3.5 years he has been in the Kremlin, this does not mean that reform is impossible. More likely it is even inevitable – the question is only whether it will take place with Medvedev’s leadership or without it.

Given Mr Cameron’s visit is dedicated, first and foremost, to the cooperation of the UK and Russia in the field of the economy, as well as to investments, I would hope that the British Prime Minister will directly raise questions of corruption and the judicial system in the RF with President Medvedev. I presume that it will be difficult for anyone to expect British companies to do serious business in Russia whilst entrepreneurs are factually subjected to a bureaucratic racket and international investors are under the threat of a repeat of the fate of YUKOS or Hermitage Capital. I know that the UK’s new Bribery Act – for which I commend Britain and Premier Cameron personally – now makes it illegal for UK companies to engage in the system of bribes and backhanders that exists in Russia. At the same time, foreign investors in Russia cannot count on effective judicial protection of their interest as of yet. And it will be difficult for western leaders to encourage their companies to go into Russia whilst there is a risk that the investors will become victims of the current system of total corruption and judicial arbitrariness.

AO: Do you think Britain has any leverage with Russia when it comes to human rights issues? If so, what could Britain do to apply pressure to Russia to get it to change for the better?

MK: There is no question that such leverage does exist. The most influential people in Russia, those who in large measure determine the image and the fate of the country today, have vast business and personal interests in the UK. This applies also to a series of significant representatives of Vladimir Putin’s team. Now as concerns President Medvedev, he has proclaimed a course towards a “reset” in relations with the West, and in this process Britain plays one of the most important roles. Therefore London can perfectly well raise with Moscow acute and not always convenient questions connected with Russian corruption, ensuring the independence of the judicial system and the protection of human rights.

To my view, the UK could let Russia understand that a country with such scales of corruption, the only G8 country where there are political prisoners, cannot be a full-fledged and all-around partner. That not only the foreign-economic relations of Russia and the West are important, but also real steps by the Russian leadership aimed at transforming my country into a modern European state. That true trust is possible between democracies, but not between a developed democracy, on the one hand, and an authoritarian regime of a half-Soviet, half-Asiatic type – on the other, and that, although Russia is interesting as a source of raw materials under any regime, cooperation in large-scale modernisation is possible only if there exists a commonality of values.

AO: Do you think that Britain and the West in general is guilty of appeasing Russia because of Moscow’s status as the world’s largest exporter of energy?

MK: As mentioned, your government has always been willing to speak out not just on general human rights issues in Russia, but in my case in particular for which I will always be grateful. Equally we all understand diplomatic reality and it would make no sense and would not be helpful for the UK to strike up a confrontational pose against Russia, even though in contrast to other European states, Britain’s’ reliance on Russian energy is relatively not great.

But the importance of Russia as an economic counterparty should surely encourage the UK to be concerned about bringing the values of the two countries closer together. The “Arab Spring” showed that the struggle for freedom and democracy has become the lot of all countries and peoples. That corrupt authoritarian regimes are not eternal, although the leaders of such regimes can be convinced of the opposite for quite a long time. That the demand for democracy, for honest and open government has become global. And the leading countries of the West – of which the UK, indubitably, is one – will retain and strengthen their political and, what is no less important, their moral leadership in the modern world if they will meet this growing, all-pervading demand on the part of many millions of people worldwide. This concerns British-Russian relations as well.