Star rating – 8/10
Mikhail Khodorkovsky used to be the richest person in Russia, and indeed one of the richest in the world. And that’s an extremely dangerous thing when faced with the regime of Vladimir Putin, who wants to be indisputably leader of the gang. This fascinating documentary by director Cyril Tuschi, just out on DVD, feels more like a dramatic fictional espionage thriller than a real life story with, as yet, no definitive ending.
Putin had Khodorkovsky imprisoned for tax evasion in a dramatic night time swoop on his private jet on the Moscow airport tarmac in 2003. His wealth came from oil, and his big mistake was to pick a fight with Putin, and to support the Russian political opposition. He was warned of his impending arrest but chose not to flee his country, but to look Putin in the eye and face up to his imprisonment instead.
Cyril Tuschi has made this film of interviews with players from the seemingly larger than life drama, with a few black and white artwork pieces thrown in besides, despite warnings for his safety, and even his life. Many ordinary Russian people think Khodorkovsky was just stealing money from their country via his oil and banking empire, and no doubt agree with his riches being confiscated.
His supporters are a strange alliance of neo liberals, human rights activists, and people who just think he is good looking. Which, by the way, he definitely is - more like a Premier League footballer in appearance than a Russian oligarch like Abramovich.
Former President Boris Yelstin created this class of oligarchs, but Khodorkovsky was not flashy like other members of that club, preferring to invest in charities and education rather than expensive clothes, yachts, or indeed football clubs.
And he wouldn’t stay away from politics as Putin wanted him to. Possibly an error of judgement on his part, you might reasonably think, to practically accuse Putin of corruption at a meeting of fellow oligarchs and Putin in front of TV cameras. And his advanced stage plans to go into business with the Americans seem to have been the last straw.
This is quite an amazing and shocking tale, with German and other Western leaders allegedly not raising a finger to help for fear of jeopardising their oil supply from Russia. So Putin seems to have got away with expropriating his company and his wealth. Despite the European Court of Justice admitting his claim against the Russian Government, he is not due for release from his Siberian solitary stretch until 2016. He is now also convicted of murdering a mayor who stood in his way, and of embezzlement on a grand scale.
But watch this space, for as this film makes a convincing case that he is not only innocent of all charges, but a future Russian leader in waiting too, and possibly the only person strong and brave enough to effectively challenge the regime of Putin, the next installment may be only four years away...