REVIEWS: Docs / Other films — December 4, 2011 at 9:07 pm

REVIEW: Khodorkovsky (2011)

Usually, a nearly 2 hour long documentary has to be very interesting to keep me attached to the screen. I had a few doubts about “Khodorkovsky”, and, I turned out to be wrong.

The film tells almost a complete story of how Mikhail Khodorkovsky (whom most know simply as some Russian oligarch who is now in prison) became one of Russia’s richest businessmen, and how he ended up in prison, where he still resides up to this day.

Director of the film Cyril Tuschi interviews people who were close to Khodorkovsky (from now on – Khodo), such as his first wife, his mother, his son, some of his business partners, his lawyer and in the end – Khodo himself.

Interviews are mixed with Khodo’s life story of how he was brought up, his “Komsomol” years, and how he established first ever private bank in Russia, named “Menatep Bank”, back in 1988, when Soviet Union was still holding up.

An opinion is brought up in the documentary, which says that “there were no independent olygarchs in Russia, such was not possible. They were all governmental products, so to speak.

There was a need for rich people in the country, however the government was deciding who could take this kind of role upon his shoulders”.

Some of the interviewees in the film agree, that Khodo was not really that independent, and the “system that created him, gave him everything, in the end destroyed him, when he became too ignorant, arrogant and tried to enter big politics. There is some truth to that, as some of Khodo’s business partners

On the day Khodo was arrested, 7 of the richest russian businessmen left Moscow, fearing they would be next. Then, shortly after the arrest, over 100 Yukos managers either left the country, or were arrested as well.

There was no socialism in USSR. It was a totalitarian regime all over. We were living as if an alien race has occupied us for the next 70 years or so. We pretended to work, and they pretended they were paying us. Nobody cared what you did at work. That’s what brought the country down.

Documentary brings up several interesting opinions on why “it all happened exactly the way it happened”. For example, an opinion has been brought up, that there were no independent oligarchs possible in Russia, they were all “governmental products”, and some ex officials of the russian government confirm that…they said that “there was a need for rich people in the country, however govt was deciding who could take this kind of role upon his shoulders.”

Some think, that Khodorkovsky wanted to go to prison. He was warned, that such thing can happen, and he was even given an opportunity to leave Russia forever. He chose not to. He knew, he would get arrested. Maybe, he wanted to go though this path, to redeem the fact that he was Russia’s richest man. Living in Russia, being rich, and having political ambitions, which Khodorkovsky clearly had, is tough to handle.

Young Khodorkovsky was ambitious. He received excellent grades. He then attempted and succeeded in building a career as a communist functionary. He became deputy head of Komsomol (the Communist Youth League) at his university, the Mendeleev Moscow Institute of Chemistry and Technology, where he graduated in chemical engineering in 1986.

The Komsomol career was one of the ways to get into the ranks of communist apparatchiks and to achieve the highest possible living standard. After “perestroika” started, Khodorkovsky used his connections within the communist structures to gain a foothold in the developing free market.

He used the help of some powerful people to start his business activities under the cover of Komsomol. And, in 1995 Khodo bought out Yukos oil company from the government for $300 million.

ADDITIONAL INFO: Yukos was one of the largest non-state oil companies in the world, producing 20% of Russian oil – about 2% of world production. Its assets were acquired in controversial circumstances from the Russian Government during the privatization process of the early 1990s. The company became of the biggest and most successful Russian companies in 2000-2003.

The early 2000s became the beginning of the end for Yukos. In 2003, following a tax reassessment, the Russian government presented Yukos with a series of tax claims that amounted to $27 billion. As Yukos’s assets were frozen by the government at the same time, the company was not able to pay these tax demands. On August 1, 2006, a Russian court declared Yukos bankrupt.

Most of Yukos’s assets were sold at low prices to oil companies owned by the Russian government. The Parliamentary Council of Europe has condemned Russia’s campaign against Yukos and its owners as manufactured for political reasons and a violation of human rights. Eventually, Yukos was liquidated in 2007.

Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax evasion and sent to Siberian prison (4000 miles from Moscow). Director of the film wrote 2 letters to Khodo, and surprisingly, he replied to both of them, answering such questions as “why you think you were put to prison”, and so on.

Khodo, I think liked the fact that there’s a documentary being made on him, and he even spoke personally to the director right in the court, while still being in the cage.

Khodorkovsky’s letter: I think there are several reason why I was arrested, one of which is that Putin was afraid I would sell most of Yukos to U.S. oil companies. Some people were saying I got arrested because I wanted to become the president, which is absolutely false. Other reason might be that I was supporting political opposition in the country.

Documentary also features the reaction from other politicians and even the ex U.S. president Bush on Khodo’s arrest, and a few interesting notes on how the business in the falling-apart Soviet Union was born.

Khodo on his future release: These people think that I will look for revenge when I come out. They think according to their own manners. I won’t be looking for any vengeance, that is for sure.

That actually sounds scary. Vengeance would have been too easy. Overall, I can say a rather interesting documentary, that would be useful for a wide range of viewers.

Keep in mind, Khodorkovsky is supposed to come out somewhere in 2016. If they wanted him dead, he would have been killed off already. So, what happens when he does come out?



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