Wednesday, 29 September 2010

11. July 8, 2009

Dear Mikhail Borisovich!

Your thoughts on the state and on public governance seem quite convincing. I am a biologist by education, and some principles that work in nature, I am internally prepared to easily carry over to social mechanisms. There is very much in common, and evolution in the biological world seems to me the most fundamental law. The nervous system, that is the system of administration in the highest sense, originated from undifferentiated tissues. We don’t know why it happened, perhaps because of an inner necessity, not captured by our intellect. Say something like this. But considering the merits of a different level of evolution, we can understand exactly how this process went. Every creature is a monument to a certain step. Here it is essential that this “higher formation”, the nervous system, in principle does not work “against” the organism. If such a thing were to happen, the organism would respond with immediate destruction, and the nervous system would perish along with the organism.

Actually, this analogy can be applied to a system of “state-society”. A poorly working state is a dying society, and the state, correspondingly, dies too.

Biological processes absolutely do not have an “ethical” aspect. Social services do. Such a strange thing as morality is is neither based on the class nor on the group, it is exclusively attached to the individual. Whatever the state structure may be, governance is always in the hands of one person or a small group of persons. Their level of morality, as it seems to me, determines very much. A theocratic, monarchic, democratic of socialist state is good or bad, as it seems to me, depending on the level of morality of its leaders. In this sense, a good monarchy is better than a bad democracy. A hundred years ago, Lev Shestov [73] said: “Where there is no freedom, there is no bread”. Where there is no morality, there can’t be social justice - I allow myself to paraphrase.

It is difficult for me to be engaged in a discussion with you - you have a great experience in and specific knowledge of management processes. But then, last week, an acquaintance came to me - a theoretical physicist, who lived for thirty years in Europe, translator of many books on management theory, and for several evenings we had “rubbed” all those issues that you covered in your letter. I was your self-appointed representative, while he attacked me frightfully, and drew up a completely different system of arguments. You would have had a much more productive talk with him than I. As a result, having been sucked into an unfamiliar set of problems, I decided to read a thick volume of John Ralston Saul [74] (Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West). I do not know if I will read it to the end, but I have a feeling that this book is arguing with you far better than I could.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.

I honestly admit that much of what you have written in your last letter elicits in me inner protest. I also admit that I wrote you a very diligent reply - to each utterance of yours - the whole week long and then realized that I have neither sufficient expertise or genuine interest in those topics that are so important to you. To the point that there arose a sense of discomfort, familiar to me from school years, when I had to take an exam in social studies or, at the university, in the history of the party. No, impossible.

After all, my role in essence comes down now to giving you a reason to express everything you have pondered over the last six years, so that a multitude of people, whose eyes are fixed on you and whose souls are turned to you - especially to you as a person compelled to pay for large public accounts with his personal, unique, unrepeatable life and health, - would find out what exactly you are paying for.

I fervently hope that there will still come a moment in life when we will sit and have tea together, the three of us - I shall invite my friend, with whom I discussed your views on the state, its powers and role, for a whole week, - and you fight, and I sit in a corner, watch and listen; this is my favorite pastime since youth - to listen to clever disputes.

I wish you strength, health, vigor.



[73] Lev Isaakovich Shestov (1866-1938) was an Ukrainian/Russian existentialist philosopher. He emigrated to France in 1921, fleeing from the aftermath of the October Revolution. He is known for his opposition to the dominant place of reason in philosophy.

[74] John Ralston Saul (°1947) is a Canadian author, essayist and President of International PEN. Saul is particularly known for his commentaries on the nature of individualism, citizenship and the public good, the failures of managers and the confusion between leadership and management.

10. July 1, 2009

Esteemed Lyudmila Yevgenievna,

Allow me to call upon your attention and make some notes on your last letter on the state and its role.

I will start with a definition. We very often confuse ourselves, using identical terms both in historical science and in the description of contemporary processes, which sometimes are the consequence of many centuries of evolution of the original ideas.

The most obvious example is democracy as a method of governance. Today, if we were to try to restore the institution of Greek democracy, we would get totalitarianism (or authoritarianism at best). This system of governmental institutions, which we call democracy today, was elaborated by several scientists in the course of primarily the XVIIIth century.

The same concerns to the more general concept of “state” (more general with relation to the question of state administration).

A state is a way of self-organization of society, based on the material contributions of its members (contributions in one or another form, including undistributed combined income). This definition describes, of course, once again a state from the point of view of the function of administration [71], about which, really, the discussion was.

Can a state, for example, have special resources of coercion? Of course. We know quite a few states where society deals with this function itself.

But can the state be “external” with relation to society? That is: not satisfy the desire to maintain such form of control for the majority of its interested members? (The inert part of the community is not involved in the administration). No! I stress: today - no.

In Russia today is a state. Whether we like it or not. I shall note straight away: there are transitional forms, but they live within the limits of one generation (20 years).

This is my point of view about the terminology of the state (as it applies to the question of administration). Now about the role of the Russian state. I'd love to treat the same concept of the role and the power.

The power, as the legitimate right to interfere in public and private life, in our country is really huge, poorly regulated and having extremely poor counterbalances, but its role – a real participation in the life of citizens - is inadequate.

When I say “inadequate”, I mean not adequate to the condition of our society, which, for now, can not and does not want to resolve its many problems by itself (apart from the state). Our society is not alone in this, but then the role of the state must be higher.

In particular: the share of the GDP (the social wealth) redistributed through the state is in our country lower than in the majority of developed countries, and most certainly lower than for our neighbours with similar climatic conditions. And this is the main general indicator, which finds its practical reflection in the weak pension system, the system of health care, the transport and public utilities infrastructures, etc.

But even if we take the topic of industry, then here too the role of the state is unreasonably small.

Of course, Putin can personally make a decision about the actual nationalization or a change of ownership in any enterprise. He can create 10 state-owned corporations and invest huge assets there. This is power.

But their influence (the power implemented into action) on the country's industry is very small. It remains basic.

And here two alternatives: either “liberalism” and see what the market will do, or thought-out industrial policy.

In practice, naturally, it’s always a combination. But I consider (and in this sense I am a statesman) that under the current conditions the share of industry operating under the "industrial policy" should represent a substantial portion of industrial production. Probably 60%.

Wanna do business in Russia? Ask me how.

What do I mean by “industrial policy”. Where, when and how much oil, gas, timber, diamonds, and perhaps a few more strategic types of raw materials should be produced. And how. That’s the business of business. Where and in what form the raw material can be supplied. As a particular choice within the allotted options is the business of business. Where and how electric power should be produced, where it should be delivered (the strategic power - about 70% of production). Where to build roads, where to develop cities, universities. And other such questions - on a hundred pages, and an adjustable, flexible plan (a five-year one, as repugnant as that may sound [72]) - on hundreds of thousands of pages (if you include the regional dimension).

Why? Again, the problem of governance. For a market to work, you must have at least three, but better four independent vendors of specific services (products) at each point where it may be necessary. In a small country this problem can be solved by the external market. In the giant market on the territory of Russia (and here territory and transport accessibility are important) the role of the external market is limited, though essential.

The structure of industry and transport in our country is bad. Especially after the collapse of the USSR. One could wait very long for the market to recreate what is lacking. It is necessary to compensate the key problems with a structural industrial policy, and then, as far as the “skeleton” is restored and the “muscular tissue” is built up again, jerk out the “titanium pins” (as with a compound fracture).

I have been defending this position since 1991, even though I know that many liberals, my friends, do not agree with me. Alas, conceptually they are wrong, while in practice today the state is unable to cope with these issues. Yet they need to be resolved. Therefore the power of the state can (and must) be reduced (there’s too much of it, and it’s unbalanced), but the role of the state, its actual participation in the economic and social life, at this stage should be increased.

Once again excuse me for having taken up your time.

The topic of “honest soldiers” and so, as the ratio calculation and art in life, I read with pleasure and interest. Your point of view seems to me not absolute, but very useful for the “komsomolist” and “geek” I am. Thank you. I should think.

With respect and appreciation,

M. Khodorkovsky


[71] Administration - in this letter, Mikhail Khodorkovsky often uses the Russian word управления - upravlenniya, wich means both “management” and “administration”.

[72] "five-year plan" - the term “five-year plan” refers to a series of nation-wide centralized exercises in rapid economic development in the Soviet Union. The attempt to turn an illiterate peasant society into an advanced industrial economy in a single decade brought intense suffering. Because meeting the goals of the five-year plans had top priority in the evolution toward a communist utopia, official lying about productivity became part of the economic system.

09. June 26, 2009

Dear Mikhail Borisovich!

Let us forget the sport at once. You and I are not competing in rhetorical arts. And our conversation is not meant for an opinion to win, not mine nor yours. It is to restore an internal order, to check our own positions. Perhaps for to change them. This is helpful for any thinking person.

How could there be any kind of vituperation from my side: even your enemies today do not scold against you for the simple reason that you have demonstrated great moral superiority.

You and I completely coincide in the assessment of our state - it is no good whatsoever. Precisely for the reason that it does not serve its country, but feeds itself from it. The kind of statesmen who truly care for the good of the Fatherland has completely died out in our country. To the ground. But when you say that “the state's role in the life of Russia (of Russian society) must be more important than today”, I am reticent. In their today’s enormous power, unprecedented power, they do absolutely everything that capriciously pops into their heads, both in the realm of the economy, and in the realm of political relations with the world. They dispense our national resources without any form of accountability, they pass public assets into private hands and transfer them successfully abroad. How can one further increase the role of this state?

And this is being said by a person who has experienced the cruelty of the state’s vengeance, the incapacity of the law, the complete absence of logic and common sense in actions.

No, of course, the question from my point of view, is in something else: how do we get within reasonable limits what is happening in this country, how to limit the “lawlessness” [62] which you know better than me? What should be done to make laws, good or bad, to exist, how to limit totalitarian power, the tyranny of officials, great and small, their boundless greed and avarice? I don’t know.

Now you, Mikhail Borisovich, you consider yourself a “statesman”. But what is the state? How do you understand it? It is inseparably linked with the concept of law. How will we define it? Like Plato, who understands the state as an expression of the idea of justice under the condition that everything is common for everybody (that is with a ban on private ownership), including wives and children? Like Kant, who argues that the state is a union of a multitude of people under the rule of the law? Like Aristotle, who understands the state as “intercourse, organized for the sake of the common good”? Or like Lenin: the state is “a machine for the oppression of one class by another”?

When you begin to read those archaic books, it turns out that all this is terribly out of date, it’s not acceptable for various reasons, besides of what Vladimir Solovyov [63] says: “The law is a certain minimum of morality, equally binding for all”. It is on this law that a state is built. Theoretically...

These ancients have been thinking about everything for a long time - it’s interesting to read (just do not think that I am such an educated person, it is all, as Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelshtam [64] used to say, “from a tear-off calendar”). And there is also a sense that in our time we need a revision of terminology, that many concepts require new definitions. Even such fundamental concepts as “good” and “virtue”, even they require rethinking. It is difficult at times to determine what is socialism, communism, liberal, conservative, where is the left, where is the right, where is forward, where is backward. I will try to send you a wonderful collection of essays by Umberto Eco, Turning Back The Clock [65], he describes those things perfectly, he’s one of the cleverest people of our time, after all.

Thus, Mikhail Borisovich, your statement that you are a “statesman” (I do not doubt on this, as you said), discourages me completely. One can not be a “statesman in principle”. This statement requires a clarification: just what kind of state are you endorsing? The Platonic? The Leninist, that is the Marxian? Perhaps, ours? And this state’s role should be more?

I too, just like you, I believe that our government doesn’t cope well with its direct responsibilities (protecting the population from war and poverty). It would be nice to make it work better. But how do you imagine the transition from what we have in reality to what you are drawing in the imagination? Neither you nor I are in any way revolutionaries: revolution is a much more frightening evil than bad management. Poverty, misery and general lack of comfort is a lesser evil than sailors smashing chairs in the palace and burning libraries, proletarians looting shops, and rabble killing passers-by in dark alleys. Not to mention the civil war, the companion of revolutions. At this point, it seems, we agree.

But the state is not going to evolve by itself in a direction which seems desirable to both you and me. In just what way will arise, all of a sudden, these “well-working institutions, financed by the taxpayer and working in the interests of the taxpayer”, which over time will even be replaced all by themselves by social structures which are an “element of self-organization and civil service”?

A new Lenin is needed? A new Trotsky? No, here prince Kropotkin [66] and Hertzen [67] are more agreeable to me.

You and I also agree that we both, each in our own environment and with our own capabilities, are carrying out our line of conduct, doing what we consider useful to our society. I can in no way compare my very modest movements with your wonderful, great work, the traces of which I observe to this day, although they have plundered you and cut off your oxygen. Let us not deceive ourselves - to feed the disabled, to provide them with decent living conditions, to deal with millions of homeless children and orphans, to restore order in the health care of pensioners and all other citizens, to ensure an education to a generation that does not want to read books, but that is longing for the little golden calf for the satisfaction of their desires - it’s an obligation of the state, not of philanthropists. But the state itself can’t cope with it, no, it prosecutes any initiative which tries to organize it privately. This looks especially bitter and tragic when the discussion concerns the adoption of children from children’s homes. Without bribes it does not pass. According to the old standards it’s traffic in human beings…

The reason is clear: any intervention by the public immediately highlights the complete and total rottenness of the bureaucracy. It is impossible to catch the “fall guy”, because he shares with his bosses, and they will protect him. The most vivid illustration is the case of Budanov [68]: he is being protected by everybody who stands above him in status, because all this is one company with the same principles and habits. That is, I want to say it is impossible to fix this system. It is impossible to knock it down. It is impossible to replace it. This is our system, it suits everybody. But what is possible? In its bowels some are doing their things INDEPENDENTLY: I know people who do not take bribes. There are few of them, it is difficult for them, but they do exist. I know people who do not steal: there are few of them, it is difficult for them, but they do exist. In contrast to our “honest soldiers”, they are not obliged to follow orders, because they are not waiting for either a supplement to the salary or a promotion. Such people I meet both in Moscow and in the provinces: in libraries, in children’s institutions, in museums and even among doctors such heroes sometimes come across. Only they can slightly change the atmosphere in society.

That faceless evil that is appearing in our country, like mould from the moister, can be resisted only individually. And this is dangerous. It arouses suspicion, anger, envy and hatred. You've probably heard more than once: “Ah, you want to be considered good? To be loved? Showing all of us, around you, what scum we are?”

That’s the kind of society we have. That’s the kind of state we have. Strong, without morals, cruel. How much more of this could one want…

Well, we got to globalization and the crisis. Nobody invented nor advanced globalization - they noticed it, like you can notice a phenomenon of nature: the cooling or the warming. It is, by my notions, a process, it is not subject to control. Of course, one can slow it down, one can advance it, but as a phenomenon of social life on the planet, it is a fact akin to nature. Whether we like this or not is another question. Something can be corrected. But the genie has got out of the bottle, and people will move across the planet, mingle, interact, and this a difficult process.

There are a dying continent, Africa, and what is happening today in Spain and Italy, in connection with illegal immigration, it is very difficult to stop.

Globalization means that neither African countries nor European ones will be able to resolve this problem in a “prohibitive way”, and looking for solutions can only be done together. A few years ago in Florence on the square in front of the Baptistery, Africans struck up a camp. The square drowned in urine and in feces.

But this is not globalization, this is the eternal struggle of culture and barbarism. Along with globalization comes another powerful process - barbarization. And it is in some sense both stronger and more frightening. I also do not like living in Moscow, which has begun to look like Baku or Chinatown, but not because of the large number of Chinese or Azerbaijanis, but because it is actuality becoming transformed into a focal point of barbarism, and a place where everything that resembles culture is being trampled. In my entranceway there are no Chinese or Africans, there are my neighbors dumping garbage near the slop pails, daubing the lift and the walls with large felt-tip pen letters, not even with obscenities, but with the names of football teams. In spring, when the snow melts, the yard is littered with dog shit and empty bottles. The Chinese are not to blame, the Azerbaijanis neither. I, just like you, have fallen out of love with Moscow. A dirty, boorish and dangerous city, and ugly. The last architectural ensemble at the Manege Square [69] is destroyed through the efforts of today’s barbarians. It’s done by the chiefs of the city, not by Chinese or Azerbaijanis.

The destruction of the Manege Square.

Although globalization is also a part of culture, culture still has its own independent language, one of music, visual arts and literature. Thanks to globalization, languages are intermingling quickly, there is perhaps even some kind of new common language being created, in which the letters of the alphabet turns out to be the music of The Beatles, the snack bars of McDonald, Microsoft Word, Spiderman and Chinese qigong exercises. Globalization does not require to sacrifice the precious gems of national culture. National culture surrenders itself.

The place to which you are accustomed to from childhood does not exist anymore and will never exist again. Whether you look for it or not. Our children will create places to live, where it will be good for people. And there will be no longer societies with single cultural roots, except in Iraq perhaps. We are all going to have to make this choice between a multicultural society and an integral, traditional one, like in Iraq or Afghanistan. Perhaps there are some other ways, but I do not know them. Other than buying an island?

Speaking of “honest soldiers”, I rather had in mind that there is no such thing. This is nothing more than a convenient smokescreen. We do live in a state of cynics, and the trouble is not that they have no ideology, the trouble is that they have no conscience. Here, the modern communists have something resembling to an ideology, and the unirussians [70] have the ideology of a “Great Russia”, but at the feeding trough they all behave the same: they push each other aside with their snouts and squelch with appetite.

For equality of opportunities I would be prepared to work together with you. You have already given the opportunity to rise from a very difficult, even hopeless situation to hundreds of children at the Koralovo boarding school. I am a witness to this.

I will end with a joke: Einstein died and stood before the Lord. He says: “Here, I’m dead, now it doesn’t matter anymore. Write me the formula for the Universe.”

The Lord God took up the chalk and wrote. Einstein looked and looked and scratched his head and says:

“But there is a mistake here!”
“Yes, I know”, God answered him.

That's right. We live in a world where a mistakes exists. At the very conception. Perhaps not even one. Maybe you thought at some point that it can be corrected? I'm not so sure.

To finish our conversation: You, Mikhail Borisovich, are an idealist. They never blamed you for this? Yes, yes an analyst, a rationalist, a scientist and a great practitioner, but in this case you are an idealist. You believe that there are in principle correct decisions, and that everything can be worked out. And if something goes wrong, hence, the error is in the calculation.

But to me it seems not to be like this. Life is more likely art than science. There are no common solutions at all, there are only particular ones: at the given moment, for the given situation, applicable to these specific circumstances. And the short-term exact decisions are more important than a comprehensive concept. And all you're doing and saying convinces me that you are all right: with your mind, your heart, your conscience. Happy Birthday!


[62] The Russian term беспредел - bespredel literally means a state of “limitlessness” or “no limits”.

[63] Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov (1853-1900) was a Russian philosopher, poet, pamphleteer and literary critic, who played a significant role in the development of Russian philosophy and poetry at the end of the 19th century. It is widely held that he was Dostoevsky's inspiration for the characters Alyosha Karamazov and Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov.

[64] Nadezhda Yakovlevna Mandelstam (1899-1980) was a Russian writer and wife of poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938).

[65] Umberto Eco (°1932) is an Italian medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, literary critic and novelist, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose. In 2006 he published a series of essays entitled A passo di gambero. Guerre calde e populismo mediatico - translated in English as Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, on what happened in the world in the years 2000-2005.

[66] Pyotr Alekseevich Kropotkin (1842-1921) was a Russian prince, revolutionary, anarchist, theorist of anarchism, geographer and geologist. He noted among other things, unlike Darwin, that within the same species, there was no struggle for existence. Mutual aid and solidarity appear essential for the maintenance and evolution of each species.

[67] Aleksander Ivanovich Herzen (1812-1870) was a prominent Russian philosopher, writer and publicist. He showed himself fighting for human dignity and individuality, the right of having own norms, independent thinking, own doing, with minimal state interference.

[68] Yuri Dmitrievich Budanov (°1963) is a Russian military officer convicted by a Russian court of war crimes in Chechnya.

[69] Manege Square is a large pedestrian open space at the very centre of Moscow. The square forms a vital part of downtown Moscow, connecting the Red Square with Tverskaya Street. During the 1990s, the controversial Moscow mayor Yuriy Luzhkov had the square closed to traffic and substantially changed. Luzhkovs’s wife, Yelena Baturina, is Russia's only female dollar billionaire. Her construction company Inteko was given many huge municipal contracts.

[70] "Unirussians" are the members of United Russia, the largest political party in the Russian Federation, currently holding 315 of the 450 seats in the State Duma. It describes itself as a conservative, right-of-center party and supports the policies of the presidential administration of Dmitry Medvedev. The party's association with the former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been the key to its success.

08. June 24, 2009

Esteemed Lyudmila,

Thank you very much for your letter and I am very glad for the opportunity to intellectually spar, even though you feel sorry for me in your comments. This, by the way, is not unsportsmanlike: you are depriving me of the right to argue my very briefly outlined assertions, with which you, as I understand, do not agree.

If you write something more derogatory, “not for publication” - I will not be offended at all.

I am indeed a “statesman”, i.e. I think that over the next 20-40 years (I do not look behind that), the state's role in the life of Russia (of Russian society) must be more important than today. However, by no means I favor a “tough hand”. I am convinced that the state should consist of well-working institutions, financed by the taxpayer and working in the interests of the taxpayer. Over time, many of them should be replaced by social structures. I.e. cease to live at the expense of the taxpayer, and become an element of self-organization and civil service. And, of course, I am certainly against the continuation of the “Tatar-Mongol” traditions, in which the state is the occupier, collecting contributions from the submissive people without being accountable for the use of those contributions, not interested in the wishes of the citizens and dictating them the rules of life.

As for globalization, I’m a globalist. Read my article about the causes of the crisis. However, I’m convinced that the national-territorial division itself will not become obsolete soon. And if in the realm of economics, the environment etc. globalization is necessary and positive, then in the realm of culture I doubt very much. I personally want to live in Moscow, to which I’m so familiar since childhood, and not in Baku or Chinatown. Even if because of this my city is short of some kind of income. Please understand me correctly, I do not judge people by their origin or nationality, but if a person comes to “my city”, he should follow my rules and not impose his own.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

And many people think this way. Comfort is created by the cultural environment, not everyone likes New York.

If I stay in the minority, then I'll go to look for a place where people live the way I am used to since my childhood. And this desire to find a community of shared cultural roots is a very strong incentive. Stronger even than the purely economic incentive is to many people.

As for the “honest men”... I'm afraid you are mistaken. With an “honest soldier” we would have found understanding, because what was happening was even harmful to the state. Everything is much worse - we are dealing with a totally depraved part of the bureaucracy, which is not meaningful to society and not even to the state, but only to its own pocket, its own selfish interests. That’s the issue: we live in a country of cynics who have no ideology, not even the “Soviets”.

I am afraid that even a “great Russia” is for most people purely a slogan, from which they can easily abandon in the name of money. They would simply leave the country for the same dollars, if they can find security guarantees there, at the risk of losing what was "prohibitively acquired" here.

Now, about equality of opportunity. I am convinced, and I will do my utmost to get us in Russia, equality of opportunity for every child. The ideal is unattainable, as in everything. But I wouldn’t mind to spend a lifetime to realize this ideal. I believe that the “right opportunity” is the main thing that we must ensure to all children in Russia. And throughout the world. Ecology, education and political freedom are the means not only to ensure a minimum standard of living and comfort for everyone, not only to raise the average standard of living, but also to provide every child and every person with an opportunity to fully realize themselves, regardless of in what family (or country eventually), he was born.

I will not try to answer for the whole world, but I want to fight for the next Russian generation. I am convinced that this is not only one of the main objectives, but the main resource of social development.

And about what to do “after”, I rarely think in abstract terms. Life will show. In my opinion one should do what he can, here and now, as if every day were the last. Then there is no time to be afraid. Do as much as your strength and talent allow you, then it would not be “excruciatingly painful” when suddenly you find out that your time is over… If your talent is not so good, then follow at least an example. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

Once again thank you for your letter.


M. Khodorkovsky

P.S.: Forgive me for the excessive pathos and awkwardness in this letter. I write to divert somewhat from the “trial”.

Monday, 27 September 2010

07. June 24, 2009

Dear Mikhail Borisovich!

More than half a year ago I sent you a letter, which, as has become clear now, did not get to you. I hope this one will.

The trial - absolutely Kafkaesque - has been somewhat delayed. I even thought for a moment: this lack of talent… is it natural, is it “the way it always is”, or is it some kind of satanic plan that counts on the psychological fatigue of society, which gets tired of responding to events which are developing slowly and weakly, like in a bad theatre play. Well, there are two players, you and Platon Lebedev, who interrupt this bad dream from time to time.

By doing so, they create a constant feeling that a game is being played with living people, not with shades or ghosts. Maybe puppets? Not people, but some kind of soap bubbles, you could say - they are Gogol's characters, if it had not been staged so painfully talentlessly. No, no, it’s clear that their intention is to delay the trial, at least to not set you free.

And what are you saying to this, Mikhail Borisovich: is this a bad job performance of the director of the show or an artful move counting on the inevitable fatigue of public opinion? Hoping that the whole world will forget about this trial? But it will not be forgotten. It will be in the history textbooks of the country, like the trials of Sinyavsky and Daniel.

Just the other day, I was at a reception at general Kalinin’s [60] for the books for the children of the colonies, we collected 62 parcels. For the first time in my life, I saw a general of this agency. The general left the impression of a living, educated and professional person. Just a good impression. I understand that the management of the federal penal system is not a ladies’ charitable organization for homeless kittens, but still …

And what do you think, Mikhail Borisovich, this barrage of punishment that falls on you, the life-threatening and ridiculous attacks that occur - at what level is it organized: the local prison authorities or the highest level? Or does it come from a diocese? I mean the Kremlin, of course.

In no way I wish to put you in a more difficult situation than the one you are already in. Therefore you must not respond to this question if you don’t want to.

When Dmitry Medvedev became president, all the journalists from abroad asked this question which troubled them: what to think of the new president? But what could answer someone who has the luxury of not having to think about them at all - neither of the old nor of the new one? There are many more interesting things in life. But I always answered one and the same thing: we will soon find out about the new president: if they release Khodorkovsky, it means this is a different president, and if not, it means there is no new president. There’s a Sphinx’s riddle for you!

And you, Mikhail Borisovich, in your hidden world, excuse me, do you feel that power has changed, or has there been not even a little change?

You have a remarkable destiny, Mikhail Borisovich: several different lives - and I hope that another excellent piece of life is waiting for you - business and public or private and closed, but in any case, life will be meaningful and creative. I can not imagine you in retirement. How do you imagine your life after being set free? Now you are defending yourself and you’re doing it beautifully. What will you do when you get back home?

About a month ago I was in the lyceum for orphans in Koralovo, which you have founded. There is a new director there, a very good and clever person. Marina Filippovna and Boris Moiseyevich [61] are surrounded by kids, and it can be seen what wonderful relations they have. They have defended themselves against the idiotic tax on the remaining parents of the fosterlings, and the entire lyceum as a whole is some kind of embodied social utopia. I saw traces of your philanthropy - often specific traces. A wonderful cause has been destroyed. I am not talking about your company. In this case, I’m interested in you, and not in the money they took from you.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky's parents

What are you going to do after your release? I can’t imagine you are not making plans for the future.

I wish you strong health and patience. You are certainly not lacking in courage and strength. See you at liberty.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya


[60] General Yuri Kalinin (°1946) is a Russian general who began a career in the Russian penitentiary system in 1970. Between 1998-2004 he was Deputy Minister of Justice. He then became director of the Federal Penitentiary Service. In April 2009 he became Deputy Minister of Justice again.

[61] Marina Filippovna Khodorkovskaya (°1934) and Boris Moiseyevich Khodorkovsky (°1933) are Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s parents, they are in charge of the lyceum for orphans he founded in Koralovo.

06. June 5, 2009

Esteemed Lyudmila Yevgenievna,

I was very glad to receive your reply, I considered it as a well-deserved “wake-up slap”.

My parents arranged everything in such way that I would not become a “white crow” in that society. Now I understand it, but at the time I did not. Furthermore, both in school and in the institute I did not see “white crows”. School was in the proletarian outskirts, the institute was also extremely “proletarian” - 70% was admitted from plants [28]. We did not have any dissidents whatsoever. In the institute there was a special defense-oriented department, and if you were excluded from the Komsomol, they also automatically dismissed you from the department. Moreover, we considered this as fair.

As the secretary of the departmental Komsomol committee, I refused to exclude those who had been dismissed from the institute from the Komsomol, because I was convinced that not every Komsomol member is able to study. But the opposite seemed absolutely fair to me in a defense-oriented department. After all, we must, if necessary, give our lives for the Motherland, even in time of peace, and how can you demand this of a non-member of the Komsomol or a non-communist? I am not kidding, I am not exaggerating. This is exactly how I thought.

I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich [29], I was shaken, I despised Stalin as having tarnished the Party’s cause just for the cult of his own personality. To Brezhnev [30] and Chernenko [31] I reacted with humour and disdain, they are gerontocrats, they were harming the Party. Andropov [32] I respected, despite the “local excesses”. You find this funny? I would like to laugh. Doesn’t work.

When I was having my practical training, I was not sitting in the plant library, I was scooping trimethylenetrinitramine (an explosive) with a shovel, working on an automatic moulding press (my friend and I were almost killed because of an error we made). We used to attend training camps, [33]] they gave me the rank of sergeant and appointed me deputy commander for political affairs, but I once again asked to be sent to a plant and to dismantle old ammunition. We were Komsomol members, after all; we were supposed to go to the most dangerous sectors. And I dismantled, under the baffled stares of the commanding officers from our military department.

I will get you laughing again: I did not understand their bafflement, but they did not say anything.

Incidentally, I was quite bold in my arguments with the secretary of the party bureau. I did not even feel any fear. He himself would come to the Komsomol committee, there were 20 women from plants and two, three guys - he and I would argue, and the committee would vote for me, practically 100%. The partorg [34] would complain to the rector - Yagodin. The girls, by the way, still write to me. One of them is my first wife, another, since already 20 years, is the current one. True, not only they wrote, but others did it as well; even the partorg (this is the Party bureau secretary’s boss) Lyuba Strelnikova wrote.

Do not think anything bad. I was, in this sense, a very decent young person. I’m joking.

Now, about the perception of an external enemy, it was extremely acute, as was the perception of belonging to the “big nine” - the group of defense industry sectors.

While we are on the subject, when I was already an advisor to Silayev [35], I took part in the last session of the VPK (the military-industrial commission), the “big nine” plus the Ministry of Defense. Well, that is a separate topic.

I never knew the CC secretary for defense Baklanov [36], but later, after 1991, I hired him to work for me out of corporate solidarity. Yeltsin knew this, but did not say anything to me.

And in 1996, the defense people refused to give money to Yeltsin (as a loan to the government, such things were possible then!), but when I asked it, they gave it to me on nothing more than a handshake. Although they were risking their heads. It was partially from their money that I bought Yukos, then I returned the money. They knew what I was taking it for. Some of my acquaintances, whom I consider good people, entered into the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, some supported the GKChP [37] (as, by the way, Baklanov and Lukyanov [38], whose daughter is now my lawyer).

What I am getting at, Lyudmila Yevgenievna, is that the people were not at all one-dimensional on that side of the barricade. “Hard-headed” in one aspect and absolutely decent in another.

I was, just like they were, a soldier in a virtual war, not of my own making. But we were honest soldiers. We defended what we considered being the truth.

I am going to tell you something even more risky. We took the cooperation with the KGB very seriously. “We” - this is the defense people. They worked for us and at the same time watched over us, only not at all from the point of view of “political literacy”, but rather from the point of view of physical security, counterespionage and so forth. They were very serious and highly-qualified specialists. Some of them had been involved in clandestine operations in the Great Patriotic War [39]. Their lessons appeared to be very useful for me in jail, as they had been through prisons, concentration camps, and zindans [40]. They were very happy that their experience was needed by someone. Turns out, and how was it needed!

There were others who were the “NKVD-niks” [41]. They were not respected, they were shunned both by us and by those specialists about whom I was talking.

Incidentally, none of them (the specialists) ever asked me for money. Although I did help some of them to find work after the year 1991. But their colleagues saved our lives, having refused to storm the White House. Some of them I know personally, others only indirectly.

There you have it: destiny. There you have it: civil war. But after that, everything got all mixed up…

Now about leadership and careerism. I will not agree those are two different things. A career, in the bad sense, is going up the steps of the bureaucratic ladder, licking boots and grovelling. Yes, it’s the path of the majority of the “successful people”. By doing so, I could have become a second secretary, a deputy plant director, a department chief and even a deputy minister. But not a “line supervisor”, a workshop superintendent or a plant director. They placed other people there. Leaders. And they tolerated them, because if careerists got those jobs the whole thing would collapse. And they wanted things to work.

Both Yagodin and Yeltsin tolerated me as a “line supervisor”, absolutely “in the spirit of party traditions”.

There was room for a “different” sort of persons, just as there was in science. Only “different ones” in another sense: they were politically orthodox, but they did not “bend easily”.

As for Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin], I can not be impartial. I know all his shortcomings. More than that, in 1999, I considered that he ought to go. Though I did not welcome Putin’s candidacy, and Putin knows this.

But Boris Nikolayevich was a figure. A giant rock. A real Russian tsar with all the pluses and minuses that go with that. He did a lot of good things, and a lot of bad ones too. But once more, it is not for me to judge.

Could one have globally changed Russia more strongly or better than he did? Could it have been done without a “Thermidor” [42] and a new stagnation, without a return of “comrades of the organs” [43]? Without the Chechen war, without the storming of parliament? Almost certainly. But we couldn't. And I don't meant him - I mean all of us. And anyway, what right have I got to judge?

When he and I made each others’ acquaintance, I was 23. And I want to preserve these memories of mine. He's dead now, and I'd rather hold onto those memories.

When Gaidar was in power I did not have ideas about the overhaul of the country as a whole, as a historical edifice, but I did have an idea of how we should be restructuring the economy. I was a supporter of the creation and subsequent privatization, not of individual enterprises, but of large scientific-and-production complexes along the lines of Gazprom [44] (not always of such scale, but analogous in structure). We in government called this an active industrial policy (not only the creation, but also a certain definition of objectives, determination of tasks and priorities).

When my ideas did not “please the court”, I left, having warned that I would make use of the idiotic laws that they were planning to pass. Including vouchers which could be cashed in. It must be said that I said right from the start that this would end badly, that the Czech model was better (they had “closed funds” [45]), but I was told - as always - that I clearly had a selfish interest. Although it wasn't clear what this interest was. I didn't argue with them. You don’t want it so you don’t do it.

But then later - and right here we can talk about the boundaries of the permissible - I made use of any loophole in legislation and always personally told the members of the government which loophole in their laws I would use or was already using - and how.

Yes, this was petty revenge, perhaps it was the sin of vanity. But, it must be noted, they behaved decently: they litigated, filled in the loopholes with new laws and instructions, got angry, however they never accused me of playing dirty. This was our continuing jousting match.

Was I right at the end of the day? I am not convinced. On the one hand, objectively speaking I did succeed in reviving industry. But on the other hand, I was running in circles around a government that wasn't really that bad. On the one hand, of course, I did invest all the money I could in industry. I invested it effectively. I didn't show off and I didn't let those around me do so. But at the same time, I didn't really think about people, about my wider social responsibility, beyond the limits of my team - even though it was a very large team.

Now, as concerns “ruthlessness” during takeovers and redistribution, the question has a funny, implausible answer.

There were at most 20 players in the “major league”. No more than that. As for the number of enterprises involved in the “loans for shares auction” [46] - there were 800. Altogether, we had enough money to buy 70, I would say.

I myself was forced to drop everything else in order to deal with Yukos. To sit in endless business trips, to drop the bank [47], to sell off and give away just about all the enterprises purchased earlier. For example, before this I owned the entire construction materials production industry of Moscow, a series of metallurgical plants, that same infamous Apatit [48].

Sorry - we're having a technical break

This was no joke - it was really hard work. And I wasn't remotely interested in any one else's businesses. We were very rarely in competition with one another. What we were up against was the chaos, the collapse of everything. The criminal gangs left us pretty much alone, as they had no idea what that vast machine consisted of, or how they could get their hands on it. There were thugs, of course. There were risks too. But the time of the “major league” was positively vegetarian compared to today's “raiders”.

For example, when the late Volodya Vinogradov (Inkombank) [49] got in my way in the fight for the oil company VNK, [50] I offered him a payoff, and when he refused, I just pushed up the price at the auction. Which, of course, cost me dearly.

And this was the usual practice: we used PR campaigns, we lobbied, we threw money around. But the police wasn't involved, nor was the criminal underworld. If anyone had been, people would have stopped dealing with him, for reasons of their own safety. And they would be substituted very soon.

It is precisely for this reason that all the efforts of the General Prosecutor’s Office in recent years have not led to convincing results.

In the “major league”, at least until citizens with a “law-enforcement past” joined it, the barrier lay where things could be defended in a court of arbitration (perhaps not a fully independent one, but neither a controlled one, like the Basmanny Court [51] today). A barrier stood also at the level of an acceptable support by officials, who could take your side for their own selfish reasons. But they knew that they would have to defend their position seriously before the Prime Minister and President - and worst of all - before the media!

It means that the today’s level of “cutthroat-ness”, in which people feel complete irresponsible for correctness in their “political position”, no, such a level was difficult to imagine.

I had dismissed an NGDU [52] chief, Fazlutdinov. Maintaining the unlawfulness of the dismissal, he got all the way to the SC RF [53] and won. He received from me more than 40 thousand dollars as a compensation (it was very big money at the time). And my legal department, knowing what losing the case would mean, couldn't do anything.

When he tried it on at Rosneft, which had taken our place, they simply threw him out of court. He came to cry to my lawyer, who took on his case at the company.

No. Looking for loopholes in the law and exploiting them - this was the most that we allowed ourselves. And we got our kicks from showing the government the mistakes they had made in the legislation.

I have to say that it was mainly the 1998 crisis [54] which changed my attitude to society and business. Before that, I saw business as a game, and only that. You need to win, you want to win, but losing is not a problem either. Hundreds of thousands of people came to work every morning to play the game with me for a while and in the evening they went home to their own lives and concerns, not connected with me.

This is very simplified, of course. I had also encountered problems before 1998, but those were problems I was not personally responsible for: it was how things were when I arrived on the scene.

And so: the year 1998. Fun at first - we’ll survive! Then came August. It was a catastrophe. The price of oil was 8 dollars a barrel, and the production cost was 12 dollars. There was no money to pay off debts, and there was no money for salaries. People really had nothing to eat and I was personally responsible. No one was buying oil inside the country and exports were blocked. No one was paying. Banks we owed money to threatened to block our accounts abroad. In Russia banks were not making any payments. Berezovsky [55] gave me a loan at 80% interest per year in hard currency!

I went to the “shift” [56] - the people were not yelling, not striking - they understood. They were simply collapsing from lack of food. Especially young people who didn't have their own farm [57] or had small children. And the hospitals… We had been buying medicine and sending our workers for treatment, but now there was no money. The main thing was the understanding faces. People who simply said: “We didn't expect anything good anyway. Thanks for coming and talking to us. We will endure...” There were no strikes after August 1998 at all.

As a result, after overcoming the crisis, my life guidelines started to change. I couldn't simply be a “director” any more. In 2000 we created “Open Russia” [58].

One more thing about my attitude to the law. I have never considered, and still don't consider, that "everyone was breaking the law" is a justification. If you broke the law, then you are accountable for it. My position is quite different: our legislation (like the legislation of any other country, in fact) has many “blank spots”, areas open to various interpretations, which are dealt with by the courts (especially the Supreme Court). The excesses, or to put it politely, the “selective application of the law” we saw in the Yukos case, were due to a separate, special interpretation of the law which was used for us. An interpretation which is not, and cannot be, applied for any other litigants.

I consider that, on the whole, our laws are normal, no better and no worse than in other countries, but the application of the law and the courts are a disaster.

Now about the ideas and values of my youth.

- “The country is a besieged fortress, so everything must go towards the strengthening of our defensive capability, we are surrounded by enemies”. This has gone, of course, and been replaced by an understanding of the interests of nations and peoples, which don't always (to put it mildly) coincide with the interests of the state and the elite. At the same time - you'll laugh - Russian patriotism is still alive. It is still inside and, for example, will stop me of saying nasty things about my country, even when I want to do it very much.

- The idea of communism as a “bright future” for all has disappeared, leaving a bitter aftertaste at the deceit which has been exposed. After all, behind the beautiful dream was hiding a brazen bureaucratic totalitarianism. Moreover, the very idea of a socialist state, which ensures that society cares for its outsiders (willingly or unwillingly), that every child has a fair chance in life - this idea survives. But it was only after the 1998 crisis that it became an additional mainstay. Before that there was resentment, and the wish to prove that “I can”...

- It took a long time for me to understand the importance of human values. I think I rebelled precisely when they “got through”. This was in 2001 - NTV, and the revolt was forced “to its knees”. But then the question arose at the RSPP: [59] what comes first - property or freedom of speech? After all, NTV’s debts to Gazprom were real. At that point I came to the conclusion that the one can't exist without the other, and I gave NTV 200 million dollar. Which was then used as a charge against me.

I am not a revolutionary. And if they had saved NTV, I would perhaps had have a less attentive attitude towards the rest of the events. In general, I would not have rushed to stand out, I would have left politics to more active “comrades”. As I was used to do, by the way. Here I could not. I felt a stranglehold around the neck.

From this perspective, prison is something more definite, less oppressive. Although, of course, in everything else it’s definitely no picnic.

And, of course, this outcome was not what I had planned. But I was forced into a corner, from which there was no other decent way out. A wise man would have probably avoided such an alternative.

Regarding the “cultural anthropology” project, I’m not convinced to be the best expert in terms of money. I will think about it. No, if I may, let my lawyers have a look at the references.

Once again thank you for your letter.



[28] "People from plants" were industrial workers who were sent to the institute by their employer to receive a higher education; entrance requirements for such students were less stringent than for new high school graduates.

[29] "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" is a novel written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, first published in November 1962 in the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir (New World). The story is set in a Soviet labor camp in the 1950s, and describes a single day of an ordinary prisoner, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. Its publication was an extraordinary event in Soviet literary history - never before had an account of Stalinist repression been openly distributed.

[30] Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) was a Soviet politician and the fourth General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He led the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982.

[31] Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985) was a Soviet politician and the sixth General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He led the Soviet Union from 1984, until his death in 1985.

[32] Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) was a Soviet politician and the fifth General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He led the Soviet Union from 1982 until his death in 1984. Andropov was personally obsessed with “the destruction of dissent in all its forms”. The brutal repression of dissidents included plans to maim the dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

[33] "Training camps" are military reserve officer training sessions.

[34] "partorg" is short for party organiser, a person appointed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party to work at important places: larger plants, construction sites, kolkhozes, institutions, etc. The position was introduced in 1933. The duties of a partorg were political work and supervision of the execution of plans in production, procurement, etc.

[35] Ivan Silayev (°1930) is a Russian political figure. He served as the Prime Minister of Russia from June 15, 1990 to September 26, 1991 and was also the last Prime Minister of the Soviet Union from September 6, 1991 to December 25, 1991.

[36] Oleg Baklanov (°1932) is a Soviet politician, high functionary in government and industry. From 1988 to 1991 he was a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, responsible for issues of state defense. He is now a scientist and businessman.

[37] The GKChP is the State Committee for the State of Emergency, a group of eight high level officials within the Soviet government, the Communist party and the KGB. They were the leaders of the short-lived “putch” that attempted to overthrow Gorbachev and reinstate the old system in August 1991; their failure hastened the collapse of the USSR.

[38] Anatoly Lukyanov (°1930) is a Russian Communist politician who was the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR between March 15, 1990 and August 22, 1991. One of the founders of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in 1993. He is described by its leader Gennady Zyuganov as the "Deng Xiao Ping" of the party.

[39] The term "Great Patriotic War" is used in Russia and some other states of the former Soviet Union to describe the part of World War II from June 22, 1941, to May 9, 1945, against Nazi Germany and its allies in the Eastern Front.

[40] A zindan is a traditional dungeon-style Central Asian prison.

[41] The NKVD was the secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Stalin - precursor of the KGB.

[42] The Thermidor reaction was the name of a mutiny on 9 Thermidor of the year II (July 27, 1794) against the excesses of the reign of de Robespierre in France. Leon Trotsky described the rise of Stalin and the rise of post-revolutionary bureaucracy the Soviet Thermidor.

[43] "Comrades of the organs" is an allusion to the way of how the secret police was named in the Stalin period. Nobody dared to directly pronounce the name of the NKVD.

[44] Gazprom is the largest company in Russia and the largest natural gas company in the world. It supplies gas to many countries in Europe, particularly to former Soviet states and countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The Russian federal government acquired a majority stake in the company in 2005. Gazprom has tried to get hold of Yukos, but eventually the best pieces of Yukos could be acquired by Rosneft.

[45] Closed funds are mutual funds having temporarily or permanently suspended sale of shares to new customers, usually due to rapid asset growth.

[46] A "loans for shares auction" is a privatization program that would simultaneously speed up privatization and yield the government a much-needed infusion of cash for its operating needs. Under the scheme, the Yeltsin regime auctioned off substantial packages of stock shares in some of its most desirable enterprises as collateral for bank loans. In exchange for the loans, the state handed over assets worth many times as much. If the government did not repay the loans by September 1996, the lender acquired title to the stock and could then resell it or take an equity position in the enterprise. The first auctions were held in the fall of 1995. By summer 1996, major packages of shares in some of Russia's largest firms had been transferred to a small number of major banks. These deals were effectively giveaways of valuable state assets to a few powerful, well-connected, and wealthy financial groups.

[47] The bank is the Menatep bank. Before he would acquire control over Yukos, Khodorkovsky and his partners used their international connections to obtain a banking licence to create Bank Menatep in 1989. As one of Russia's first privately owned banks, Menatep expanded quickly, by using most of the deposits raised to finance Khodorkovsky's successful import-export operations.

[48] Apatit. In early July 2003, Platon Lebedev, a Khodorkovsky partner and second largest shareholder in Yukos, was arrested on suspicion of illegally acquiring a stake in a state-owned fertiliser firm, Apatit, in 1994. The arrest was followed by investigations into taxation returns filed by Yukos, and a delay to the antitrust commission's approval for its merger with Sibneft. Khodorkovsky was himself arrested in October 2003, charged with fraud and tax evasion.

[49] Volodya Vinogradov (1955-2008) was considered one of Russia's oligarchs, and served as president of Inkombank, one of the largest banks in the 90’s in Russia. In a secret deal Vinogradov offered organized crime boss Semion Mogilevich direct access to the world financial system. Inkombank collapsed in 1998, in the period of the financial crisis, under suspicions of money laundering.

[50] Tomskneft-VNK - when Yukos wanted to take over this oil company, the management of VNK resisted the takeover; it used a technique that was widespread in the late 90’s - making up a fictitious debt for the company. All the same, Yukos succeeded in acquiring the controlling interest. It refused to pay the fictitious debt. Yukos bought out the state's remaining stake in the company at an auction - at a fair market price, as the state later acknowledged.

[51] Basmanny Court - the term “Basmanny justice” refers to the Basmanny District Court of the City of Moscow where Khodorkovsky was taken after his arrest. It entered the lexicon as describing Russia's subservient judicial system, where judges are fired for issuing rulings not to the government's liking and where rule of law is largely absent.

[52] An NGDU is a company (or a structural unit of a company) pumping crude oil and gas on behalf of commercial companies. The NGDU in question was Yuganskneftegaz. Anfir Fazlutdinov was a Deputy Director.

[53] The SC RF is the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

[54] The 1998 crisis - The Russian financial crisis, also known as the ruble crisis, struck Russia in the summer of 1998. On August 13 there was a stock market crash site. The shares decreased by 65% and the ruble lost most of its value. The Russians were in panic and massively took changed savings into stable foreign currencies. At the end of the year the inflation was 84% and prices for food and drink had increased by over 100%.

[55] Boris Berezovsky (°1946) is a Russian businessman, mathematician, member of Russian Academy of Sciences, who was accused of numerous crimes in Russia and sentenced to several years of imprisonment in absentia. Berezovsky is currently a political refugee in Britain, which so far has refused repeated extradition requests from Russia.

[56] The "shift" refers to oil workers living and working at remote fields in rotating multiple-week shifts.

[57] A "farm" is actually more of a vegetable garden plot, the harvests from which formed a substantial part of many Russians’ diet during the economic crisis being described by Khodorkovsky.

[58] Open Russia was a non-profit organization, founded by Yukos in 2001. The Foundation wass engaged in the selection, coordination and implementation of projects in education, culture and charity. It also promoted “the dissemination of objective and truthful information about the activities of the Russian government and public institutions”. In 2006, the Basmanny Court of Moscow seized all the accounts of Open Russia.

[59] The RSPP is the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

05. November 18, 2008

Esteemed Mikhail Borisovich!

I was surprised by your reply, which was quite unexpected: for half our lives, we draw up stereotypes, all kinds of hackneyed labels and clichés, then they start suffocating us, and years later, when the accrued stereotypes begin to crumble, we are very happy to be liberated from them. For now I am speaking about my own impressions. Gradually, I hope, we will get to yours as well.

And so, your parents were solid people of the sixties with pedigrees - engineers, production people, honest and decent - your dad with a guitar in one hand and a shot glass in the other, cheerful and lively; your mom, always ready to receive guests or to help a girlfriend in difficult circumstances. And their attitude to the Soviet power is understandable: bug off…

The children of the people of the sixties, read typewritten copies of Solzhenitsyn’s GULAG Archipelago and Orwell’s 1984 in grade nine. They squeamishly kept their distance from power and in the best case wrote their dissertations, worked as doctors or elevator operators or participated in a social movement which subsequently was called “dissident”.

Some of the children of this generation went through the experience of jail and camps in the 70s-80s, some emigrated to the West. But somehow you protected yourself from this and successfully fit yourself into the machine of that time, found your own place in it and worked there effectively. Particularly affecting is the innocence with which a young person is prepared to go even into the “D”, [24] because the motherland needs to be defended.

Two decades of difference in age rule out a situation which would be easy to imagine if we were the same age. When I came to the departmental Komsomol committee to get a character reference [25], with a feeling of revulsion and a travel permit, there were sitting either hard-boiled careerists or idiots and I managed to answer the question about who the secretary of the party CC [26] in Bulgaria was. I went there in the 60s, and you were sitting there, or in the office next door, at the beginning of the eighties. Without a doubt, you belonged to the circle of people with whom I was, to put it mildly, not on friendly terms.

Turns out - and this is what amazed me in your letter -, that someone of these people in the 80s could have had a “positive” motivation. You were there as a young, talented person, dreaming of becoming a “plant director”, of sensibly and correctly producing something, maybe even weaponry for the defense of the motherland. And there, in this environment, there were “progressives”, like Yeltsin, and retrogrades, like Ligachev. You were found inside the system, and found yourself a place there, and created a team. You say that ideology did not interest you, and that “striving for leadership” had significance. But this striving is a respectable definition of the concept of “careerism”. This is not an invective, but a definition. A career, business, is the most important part of the life of a normal man. Today it is for a woman as well. But, as it seemed to me, the rules of the game being offered there, inside the system, were such that it was impossible for a decent person to accept them. And you were a boy from a decent family. How did you ever manage to grow up as a “true believer” Komsomol member without any doubts about who are the friends and who were the enemies? You say it was possible. I have no grounds not to trust your analysis. That means I was biased in my total aversion to all party and semi-party people.

In the eighties, any societal ideology was already completely extinguished in the leadership of the country (and indeed at all levels, down to the bathhouse and the pre-school), and what was left was only an empty shell.

Now I see that I did not have the complete picture. Perhaps even a completely wrong one. My aversion to the Soviet order was so strong that I did not allow that one could rely on, or trust anyone, in this late-communist time. Or even find someone to look up to. Yeltsin was for me one of the party workers, and I got frightfully worried when all my friends ran off to the White House, while I sat at home and lamented: “Why do I not want to run to this demonstration with everybody else?”

Several days later I said: “If there will be a purge, like in Germany after the defeat of the nazi regime, then I will believe”. There was great enthusiasm around, but I could not share it. There was no purge: nearly all the bosses stayed the same, having switched chairs, only a few were driven out.

I understand that Yeltsin had charm, and scope, and good intentions. Only it ended badly - he surrendered his country into the hands of the KGB. He found “clean hands”. And you, having expressed it in some other words, also, as it seemed to me, admit this.

How do you assess the figure of Yeltsin today, a decade later? If this reassessment did take place, then when was it?

There was a moment when it seemed to me that Gaidar’s reforms [27] could create an efficient economy, but he did not pull it off. His book about the fall of the empire is very interesting, explains much, but retroactively.

Did you at that time have some kind of conception of an overhaul, or were you completely satisfied with those big opportunities that then opened up for entrepreneurs? There are no doubts that you turned out to be a very good director of a very big - half the country - plant.

Finally, the most painful of all possible questions. So painful that I am prepared not to get an answer to it. To simply withdraw the question. There was a moment when people close to Yeltsin were getting huge pieces in the form of plants, newspapers, marine fleets. There was one distribution, then a series of subsequent “redistributions”. Often very ruthless. By this time you had already become a “plant director”. Where in this period did the boundaries of what was permitted stand for you?

Yes, concerning Voltaireism. The elder stirred up the whole world with his ideas. But children sired with a maidservant he caused to be handed over to an orphanage. Or was that Rousseau? This is simply some kind of capital law of nature: the more exalted the ideas, the more odious the practice of life…

There. I introduce an amendment to the question: what did you retain from the ideas of your youth, when you dreamed of being a “plant director”? What did you lose? I am, of course, talking about the system of values.

I singled out your name from the ranks of the oligarchs when in a children’s correctional colony, where I had ended up together with psychologist girlfriends, I discovered a computer class, organized with your money, and then again in different spheres I bumped into traces of Open Russia, your brainchild. Several years later, when you were already arrested, I ended up in the Koralovo lyceum, made the acquaintance of your parents and saw there an unimaginably wonderfully appointed island for child-orphans and half-orphans. I had not seen anything like this anywhere in Europe. Also a cause built by your efforts.

The Koralovo lyceum

You write that for you the turning point in relations with the power was the rout of NTV. Every person truly does have “his Rubicon”. But until this time you somehow lined up relations with a power that was more and more losing a sense of decency. Yet another tough question: did you have a feeling that this process can be changed? If NTV had been preserved, would you have been able to fix the damaged relations with the Kremlin?

The press is for sale and obedient to the powers everywhere in the world. The question is that in different countries there is a different-sized exhaust pipe for discharging negative emotions. Can it really be that your conflict took place because of the diameter of not an oil pipe, but an informational one? For me this would mean that you, being a pragmatic and practical person, have not lost romantic illusions.

You will forgive me, maybe something came out harsh in this letter. But the “golden age” is ended. The illusions have been dispelled. There is little time for reflection. On top of that, I have a most acute sense of catastrophically “shrinking” time. I want to ultimately “get to the very essence”. By the way, nobody has managed to. Well, at least to get as close as possible.

And there is also one problem that I would like to discuss: a person - his personal life and the pressure of society. How to preserve one’s dignity, one’s values… How do these values change? And do they change? When a person is found in camp, there arises a unique experience, distinct from the one here. This is me warning you in advance of what else I would like to talk with you about, if there will be such an opportunity.

I wish you health, hardness and tranquility.




[24] The “D” stands for "defense".

[25] Character reference - Soviet citizens required a positive character reference from their college Komsomol committee or workplace party committee in order to be permitted to travel abroad.

[26] CC stands for Central Committee

[27] Yegor Gaidar (1965-2009) was a Soviet and Russian economist, politician and author. He was the Acting Prime Minister of Russia from June 15 to December 14, 1992. He was best known as the architect of the controversial shock therapy reforms administered in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which brought him both praise and harsh criticism.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

04. November 10, 2008

Dear Lyudmila Yevgenievna!

Thank you for your letter and for the interest you have shown.

My memories are of a very fragmented (emotional) nature, by which I mean that I can remember what is emotionally tinted, the rest almost not at all.

Sometimes a substitution of a memory takes place, when I remember something that was actually told to me by my parents. Nevertheless, since childhood I “distinctly” wanted to become a plant director. Actually, this is not surprising: my parents had worked all their lives at a plant, the day care centre I attended was the plant’s, the Pioneer camp [12] was the plant’s, the plant director was the most important person everywhere.

My mom and dad, as I now understand, extremely disliked the Soviet power, but they did everything to shield me from their influence, believing that they could ruin life for me. And I grew up as a “true believer”, a Komsomol member without any doubts about who were the friends and who were the enemies.

Choosing my paths in life, I focused not just on the chemical industry [13], but also on defense, since I was convinced that the most important thing was protection from “external enemies”.

The Komsomol work at the institute [14] was, of course, not a manifestation of a political vocation, but a striving for leadership. Personally, I was never involved in ideology, the organizational work was my thing.

Construction brigades, work practice at a plant - I liked all this very much, specifically as an opportunity to realize myself as a production person, as a manager.

When after the institute they assigned [15] me to a ministry - the Gosgortekhnadzor [16] - I was extremely disappointed, since I wanted to go to a plant. So I asked to work for the district committee of the Komsomol, to avoid working in a ministry for three years.

Then came the NTTM centres [17], business, and the defense of the White House [18]...

The defense of the White House (1990)

It is interesting that the secretary of the party committee at the institute proposed to me to continue my “Komsomol” career in 1987, and he was amazed when I chose the “self-financed stuff” [19].

Now, as concerns the “barriers”, for me they consisted of one thing: never to alter [20] my position under the pressure of force instead of arguments. We had a wonderful rector [21] G.A. Yagodin. He called me “my most disobedient secretary” (meaning secretary of the Komsomol faculty committee). He could easily have broken me, but he didn’t do it, thus giving me the opportunity to toughen up. Unfortunately, he left the institute for a promotion in 1985.

I was lucky a second time. The secretary of our Sverdlov district party committee was Kislova, and a member of the buro was the minister of the construction materials industry, B.N. Yeltsin. I got a real lesson in courage from them, when they were were “given the cold shoulder”, but they did not give in. By the way, Kislova did not betray Yeltsin. What this must have cost her I can only imagine.

By the way, while we are on the subject, the deputy [22] for the Tomsk Oblast, where I was working in 1999, was Y.K. Ligachev, who did everything possible to put me “through the wringer”. I forbade our people to attack him in return, since he was already an elderly person, although there was plenty we could have said against him.

I considered myself a member of Yeltsin’s team. One of the many. It was precisely for this reason that I went to defend the White House in 1991 and the city hall in 1993, it was precisely for this reason that I entered into the informal pre-election headquarter’s staff in 1995-1996. I suppose this was perhaps the most dangerous undertaking in my life (almost). It is specifically because of Boris Nikolaevich that I did not come out against Putin, even though I had my opinion on him.

Now, about the “oligarch scene”, I've never liked such an all-encompassing concept. We were completely different people. Gusinsky and Berezovsky, Bendookidze and Potanin, me and Prokhorov. We had completely different objectives in life and completely different perceptions of life. There were oilmen and metallurgists, mass media magnates and bankers. And even this will probably be not quite correct.

I think I can define myself as a Voltairean, i.e. a supporter of free thinking, of freedom of speech. B.N. Yeltsin was my ideal in this sense, like G.A. Yagodin before him. Working with them did not provoke any feelings of inner protest in me.

The rout of NTV [23] (I had attempted to help them with money, which was used to incriminate me at the first trial) became my “Rubicon”. Specifically the destruction of the team, not the transfer of ownership, understand me correctly.

I must break off for now. Thank you for your letter. I hope for a continuation of our conversation.




[12] The Pioneer movement was an organization for children operated by a communist party. Typically children enter into the organization in elementary school and continue until adolescence. The adolescents then typically joined Komsomol.

[13] Chemical production - Khodorkovsky graduated in chemical engineering at the Moscow Mendeleev Institute of Chemistry and Technology in 1986.

[14] The institute is the Moscow Mendeleev Institute of Chemistry and Technology.

[15] The term "assignment" refers to the Soviet system of assigning college graduates to a job where it was deemed they could be most useful to the state.

[16] The Gosgortekhnadzor is the State Committee for Oversight of the Safe Conducting of Works in Industry and Mining Oversight Under the Council of Ministers of the USSR.

[17] The NTTM centers are Youth Scientific-Technical Creativity Centres, where perestroika-era commercial enterprises were created under the aegis of the Komsomol Central Committee.

[18] The defending the White House - in August 1990, citizens of Moscow began to gather around the White House - the House of the Government of the Russian Federation - and to erect barricades around it after a group of members of the Soviet Union's government had tried to take control of the country from Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. The event destabilized the Soviet Union and is widely considered to have helped in bringing about both the demise of the Communist Party and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

[19] "Self financed" was a perestroika-era term to describe a new way of doing business: without funds provided by the state.

[20] Alter - the Russian verb изменять - izmenyat’ can mean “to alter”, but it can also mean “to betray”.

[21] A rector is a college president or provost.

[22] A deputy is a member of parliament.

[23] NTV is a Russian TV channel. It was founded in 1993 and attracted the best journalists and news anchors of the time. The channel set high professional standards in Russian television, giving live coverage and sharp analysis of current events. In 2001, the channel was very unpopular at the Kremlin. It fell into difficulties and was forced to shut down because of its debts with Gazprom. Mikhail Khodorkovsky tried in vain to save the channel, by offering to give it US$200 million.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

03. October 16, 2008

Dear Mikhail Borisovich!

Thank you for the reply written on the eve of court. Now, at this very moment, a court hearing is taking place, and in the evening we will hear the news on the radio - almost certainly not joyous.

Your letter astounded me. It plunged me into a different reality: as if we are in different corners of the universe. But there is one substantive thing we have in common - a conscious attitude towards our own path in life. The place where this consciousness takes place so productively, in your situation, is a jail squared. What else can you call a dungeon in places of deprivation of liberty? You can't sink any lower. Simultaneously there is the unexpected elevation of an unbroken spirit and of a mind, working intensely. This is how the Tibetan monk sits in the icy wilderness, heating the meadow around himself with his warm bottom, or by some other method unknown to us, so that grass and little flowers start to grow. And there grow on this glade rare fruits of awareness of oneself and of the world around, of compassion, of patience. And verily, those lads up above (in both senses!) are making for you not only renown, various kinds of fame - whether good or bad is unimportant in this respect - but with you is taking place a process which could be directed by a wise guru, a spiritual teacher, some kind of elder or whoever is appointed to do this.

I have always been fascinated by that current in which a person finds himself from birth to death. The current carries you, and you drift with the current, pre-guessing its turns, sometimes ending up in the middle of the current, sometimes making independent movements, in order to change the direction somewhat. And here there is always a starting point, when you become aware of your life inscribed into the general current and all subsequent moments of “reorientation”. This is a very fascinating history - each human fate. I think that you can say more than many people, to whom life had not given such an extreme and diverse experience. They have given you the time to think. Forcibly. But you have turned out to be a good student. This is what I want to talk about.

Let’s take a reference point: childhood, family, guidelines and intentions. How did you plan your life at the age when we have such thoughts?

For me it happened very early: my parents were more or less scientists. Traditional emeneses, [9] albeit with degrees. And I was pointed into a science - this was biology. I had ideas on “serving humanity” and satisfying my ambition, I also thought, quite wrongly, that scientists were freer. Naturally, all those illusions eventually crumbled.

Tell me, just how you saw your future as a boy? How did you plan your life as a young man? I know, of course, that you were in the Komsomol [10], and even functioned well in that environment which for me (I am 15 years older than you) was thoroughly unsuitable. You probably felt yourself to be one of them or at the very least mimicked being a “Komsomol leader”, then you turned out to be “one of them” in the milieu of the “oligarchs”, with your interesting life, so attractive to the popular masses. You clearly exceeded the boundaries of what was allowed, you violated some kind of unwritten rule (deliberately or not), you crossed the boundary of what was “permissible” in that upper circle that I've ever entered and, to be quite honest, never even wanted to. And this is exactly what I want to talk about.

Each of us chooses for himself his own boundary, which we will not step over. For example, my girlfriend Natasha Gorbanevskaya went out into the Red Square in 1968 with a three-month-old child [11] and then got into the “loony bin”. Her self-preservation instinct, if not completely absent, was obviously weakened. I would not have come out even without a child. Simply out of animal fear. But I could not vote “for condemnation” at a general meeting in the Institute of General Genetics, where I worked at the time, I stomped right out of the hall under the astonished gazes of co-workers at the moment when I should have been raising my hand. This was my boundary. A very modest one. I did not pay dearly - at the first opportunity they dismissed me. Eventually I started writing books.

The demonstration on the Red Square (1968)

Where did your ethical boundaries lie in your youth? How have they changed over time? I am absolutely certain that you have given this some thought, and I have even read some of your statements on this subject. But for our conversation to be productive, we need to move step by step to the present day. By the way, I simply must tell you that today we heard on the radio that they had not given you conditional early release on parole.

The court knows its business. We did not expect anything else. So now we have an unspecified amount of time to talk about this abstract but interesting topic, and we will be able to continue our dialogue.


Lyudmila Ulitskaya


[9] "emenes" comes from the Russian abbreviation “MNS”, or “Junior Scientific Fellow”, a low rank in the research institute hierarchy.

[10] Komsomol served as the youth wing of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), the youngest members being fourteen years old, the upper limit for an age of rank and file being 28.

[11] Natalya Gorbanevskaya (°1936) is a Russian poet and one of eight protesters to demonstrate on the Red Square in Moscow on 25 August 1968 against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Having recently given birth she was not immediately tried with the other demonstrators. She was arrested in December, 1969 and imprisoned in a Soviet psychiatric prison until February, 1972.