20 years under Putin: a timeline

On April 22 and 24, Richard Sakwa, professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, presented his book titled Putin and the Oligarch: The Khodorkovsky-Yukos Affair in Washington, DC, and New York. Both events were organized by the Institute of Modern Russia.


Professor Richard Sakwa presents his book Putin and the Oligarch in Washington, DC.


On April 22 and 24, with the support of IMR, Professor Sakwa presented Putin and the Oligarch in Washington, DC, and New York, covering the major themes of the book and commenting on the future of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and of Russia as a whole. Describing the case as “one of the great stories of our time,” Sakwa stated that his book deals with the “nature of post-communism” and contextualizes the history of not only the most well-known individual tied to the Yukos affair, but also “all of those whose fates were involved.”

Introducing the author on April 22, Sanford Saunders, co-managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig in Washington, DC, and senior member of the white-collar defense group, expressed that it was a privilege to hear from Professor Sakwa. About the book, Saunders said, “Professor Sakwa provides insight into Khodorkovsky’s path through a rapidly changing Russia and what made him a unique figure and a leader in Russian business and national affairs. Putin and the Oligarch is a must read for anyone interested in the Kremlin’s persecution in what has become known as the Khodorkovsky/Yukos Affair.  He provides the reader with a solid basis to think about what will come next. ”

On April 24, Pavel Khodorkovsky, president of IMR and son of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, introduced Professor Sakwa at Macaulay Honors College in New York. Speaking about Putin and the Oligarch, Khodorkovsky said, “I believe that Professor Sakwa’s latest work is a tremendous contribution to the literature on the Yukos affair and Russian politics as a whole.” He agreed with Sanford Saunders’ thoughts on the importance of the book, “especially now that [his] father has been released from prison.”

According to Sakwa, a new model of political economy emerged in Russia that was neither a form of state capitalism nor a “normal economy” subject to the rule of law. What did develop was a market economy driven by market forces that were constrained by the regime. Building on the dual-state model originally conceived by political scientist Ernst Fraenkel, Sakwa explained that, in Russia, the “administrative regime” or “core state” stands above the constitutional state, resulting in an arbitrary, contradictory system that trumps the rule of law.

This is the system in which Khodorkovsky and the Yukos oil company were operating. However, unlike other oligarchs, including those whom Professor Sakwa categorized as “criminal” or “Soviet-style,” Khodorkovsky was an independent businessman who had a “different vision” of economic development. Khodorkovsky was a “statist” or “national liberal,” in that he believed in an “embedded economy responsive to the needs of society” and took into account the “degree to which the economy has social responsibility.” As Sakwa put it, this was “patriotism in the best sense of the word.”

With this information in mind, Professor Sakwa went on to explain “why Khodorkovsky?” Early in the Putin years, Khodorkovsky “internally turned” away from the new president. Many point to his funding of political parties and Open Russia, opposition to pipeline aspirations, and even personal ambitions in answering this question. However, Sakwa described Khodorkovsky’s refusal to subordinate himself to the Putin regime as the defining factor.

Professor Sakwa’s discussion ended with thoughts on Khodorkovsky as a political thinker and his future. He predicted that Khodorkovsky would seek to maintain his political independence, which can be seen in his actions of support for Ukraine’s constitutional ambitions. According to Sakwa, Khodorkovsky “did and does matter, not just historically, but to this day,” and he has the potential to be a “major political leader.” With the unstable balance between the administrative regime and the constitutional state in modern Russia, Sakwa asserted his belief in Khodorkovsky’s ability to “put forward a program which respects Russia’s national interests, which tend to be forgotten, and yet establish a democratic movement which can be peaceful.”