Book Talk: Putin-Khodorkovsky battle a "bar room brawl"

Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:52am EDT
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By Chris Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The fall of Russian oil company YUKOS chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the rise of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is "a clash between two world views," author Martin Sixsmith says in his book "Putin's Oil."

Former oil baron Khodorkovsky was sentenced to eight years in a remote Siberian jail for fraud and tax evasion in 2005, and is now on trial for new charges of money laundering and embezzlement that could keep him in jail for 22 more years.

Former President and now Prime Minister Putin has always rejected any hint of politics in the case, but in December last year he accused Khodorkovsky of ordering the murders of business rivals and opponents.

Khodorkovsky has repeatedly stressed his innocence and says all the charges were cooked up by highly placed officials who wanted him in jail so they could carve up his multi-billion dollar business empire.

The main production assets of YUKOS were sold off in murky state auctions, winding up in the hands of state-controlled oil major Rosneft, and last year a Dutch court ordered Rosneft to pay 13 billion roubles ($389.3 million) to a former YUKOS affiliate.

This year Rosneft began asking traders to defer some payments after it became clear the company, which pumps a fifth of Russia's 10 million barrels a day, was facing a possible export deadlock in light of U.S. and British court injunctions over the Dutch ruling.

Earlier this month Rosneft presented guarantees that suited a British court, saying the freeze on its assets was lifted after it had presented collateral.

Here's what Sixsmith, a former BBC correspondent in Moscow and the author of two previous books on contemporary Russian history, had to say about the ongoing YUKOS affair:   Continued...