Russia’s Descent Toward Authoritarianism: An Examination of the Khodorkovsky Case

By Dr Andrew Foxall

On the 10th anniversary of the arrest of Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russia Studies Centre has issued a new analysis that concludes Putin’s Russia is now more corrupt and significantly less free than it was 10 years ago.

Khodorkovsky, a hugely successful businessman who was lauded internationally for transforming his company Yukos into a well-governed and transparent operation, was a vocal critic of President Putin and a long-standing supporter of liberal political parties.

He was arrested on October 25th, 2003, taken into custody and immediately charged with fraud. The two trials that followed have both been characterized by political interference and legal violations, and Khodorkovsky is currently not due to be freed until August 2014, having had his sentence significantly extended.

The new report, Russia’s Descent Toward Authoritarianism: An Examination of the Khodorkovsky Case, by Director of the Russia Studies Centre (RSC) Dr Andrew Foxall, looks at trends in human rights, the rule of law, the treatment of dissidents, and corruption in Russia over the past decade. It finds:


  • Putin’s consolidation of political power has been accompanied by an increasingly authoritarian political system. While in 2003 Freedom House described Russia as “Partly Free”, by 2013 its description was “Not Free”;
  • Putin has overseen a crackdown on media freedoms and increased state control over the economy;
  • In the aftermath of high-profile anti-government protests in the winter of 2011 / 2012, Putin cracked down on civil society, introduced a series of repressive laws restricting freedom of expression, and targeted political opposition;
  • In the summer of 2013, a series of draconian laws designed to suppress any form of dissent, one of which criminalised blasphemy and another that banned “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”, were approved;
  • The Russian Government has overlooked widespread torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police, violent initiation ceremonies for new recruits in the armed forces, and inhuman treatment of orphans and those in psychiatric care;
  • Despite declaring the “dictatorship of law” in 2000, Putin has used Russia’s legal system to achieve political aims and garner public support, primarily under the banner of combating crime and corruption.


Director of the RSC and author of the report Dr Andrew Foxall said: “If in 2003 the international community was willing to believe in Putin’s democratic and liberal potential, in 2013 it is clear that Putin is neither a democrat nor a liberal.

“Khodorkovsky’s fate has become a symbol of Russia’s downward spiral towards authoritarianism over the past decade, which has seen Putin’s Government crack down on civil liberties, human rights and the freedom to oppose prevailing powers.

“His imprisonment marked a watershed in modern Russia. Until his arrest, the international community had been willing to believe in President Vladimir Putin’s seemingly democratic and market-oriented intentions. It’s clear that misapprehension is no longer credible.”


 Click here to download the report


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