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Khodorkovsky Sets Out Vision for 2020

Mikhail Khodorkovsky attacked President Vladimir Putin's regime in a withering missive from his east Siberian prison camp that said time was up for the "parasitic" policies of the current elite and, for the first time, presented what appeared to be his own manifesto for the presidency.

In his first major article since he was sent to serve out his sentence in the remote Chita region near the Chinese border, Khodorkovsky called for Putin to step down "not a day before nor an hour later" than the legal end of his term in 2008. He called for a "new responsible elite" to run the country in place of the bureaucrats who he said currently sought office only for the opportunity to win assets. Without a major shift toward more paternalistic, left-wing economic policies, the country is heading toward collapse, he said.

"This parasitic approach no longer works," he wrote in the article, which took up a full page in Kommersant on Friday. "The country is not capable of being competitive, and the strategic reserve of endurance and infrastructure built up from the Soviet era has run out."

Attempts by the Kremlin to justify its authoritarian rule by encouraging extremist groups would lead to "sorry" consequences and long-term instability, he said.

The photo that accompanied the article, showing Khodorkovsky dressed in a black prison uniform with his head shaved, bent over a wooden desk as he wrote in an exercise book, was a stark reminder of the former oil tycoon's rapid fall from power. But the article, titled "Left Turn-2," appeared to be a clear bid for a place in the political sun and his strongest personal challenge yet to Putin's regime.

Picking up from his last newspaper article, in which he called a "left turn" the only way to avoid a major sociopolitical backlash, Khodorkovsky set out a 12-year economic plan that called for nearly $1 trillion in investments from the state and private sector to be plowed into improvements in infrastructure, education and science.

Under the subheading "Program 2020," he called for the return of elections for regional governors and for the first time openly called for the creation of a parliamentary republic -- a goal he was believed to be pursuing before his arrest in October 2003.

Some have seen the legal attack against Khodorkovsky as a campaign to crush his political ambitions, but the Kremlin has portrayed the fraud and tax evasion case as a just battle against a robber baron.

In contrast to the rebellious Decembrist officers whom Tsar Nicholas I sent into exile and political isolation in Chita in 1825, Khodorkovsky's supporters hope he may yet be able to influence the country's political discourse.

"He might be far away near the uranium mines, but in this modern age it will be much harder to cut him off," said Irina Khakamada, a liberal politician and former presidential candidate who backed Khodorkovsky's abortive bid for a State Duma seat in September.

While Khodorkovsky's calls for a large increase in state spending appeared populist, his political analysis was spot on, Khakamada said, adding that she agreed with those who thought his harsh prison sentence could enhance his political standing.

Underlining that he believed his managerial skills were superior to Putin's, Khodorkovsky said talk of a "personnel crisis" in government needed debunking. He said the current system, which is based on unquestioning loyalty to the president, was the source of the crisis. "I have experience in building the strongest Russian corporation: Yukos," he said. "And if this company grew from a condition of post-Soviet collapse to reach the level of a world giant with a capitalization of $40 billion, then this was mainly due to personnel policy.

"If we, like the Kremlin does today, relied on job seekers' ability to look loyally into their boss' eyes and carry his briefcase, then Yukos would not have existed for long," he said.

"Drawing up the correct criteria for selecting top personnel is vital. ... The Kremlin chooses people according to a federal criterion of 100 percent loyalty and pliancy. A capable person cannot be 100 percent pliable -- that is a fate reserved for those who are without talent and are motivated only by money."

Painting a dire picture of the country's infrastructure, he said the Kremlin's policies had caused it to lose control over the North Caucasus, and said the military was in a state of collapse. He compared the situation in the Kremlin to a famous Brezhnev-era joke that told of apparatchiks shaking their leader's windowless, rusty train car on the spot in an effort to convince him that it was moving.

While Putin has sought to avoid the inflationary effects of ramping up state spending, Khodorkovsky proposed using the state's windfall from high oil prices to boost economic growth and living standards. He called for investments of $50 billion to rebuild the armed forces, and said $10 billion in financial incentives for families to have more children could raise the population to between 220 million and 230 million.

He also proposed levying a windfall tax on businessmen who, like himself, won their enterprises in the controversial privatizations of the 1990s. Likening the tax to one imposed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government, he said it would legitimize businesses' holdings and calculated that it could raise $30 billion to $35 billion in three to four years.


(The Moscow Times 14.xi.05)

 
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