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Putin and the Oligarchs

Courtesy Reuters

THE KHODORKOVSKY AFFAIR

In mid-September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans for a radical overhaul of his country's political system, with the goal of centralizing power in the Kremlin. Acting in the wake of the hostage crisis in Beslan, during which Chechen separatists killed hundreds of children, Putin claimed that his power grab was necessary to help Russia win its own war on terrorism. Whatever his motivations, the move represents a major step backward for Russian democracy.

Putin's recent actions may be the most drastic of his tenure so far, but they were hardly the first signs of his willingness to deploy the power of the Russian state for his own purposes. A year earlier, he had Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of the oil group Yukos and one of the world's richest men, arrested and thrown in jail on charges of fraud and tax evasion-a move widely interpreted as a

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