Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Real Justice Is Best Antidote for Injustice

The trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is nearing a verdict. Assuming, as everyone does, that he will be found guilty of fraud and tax evasion and left in prison, let's take stock: Russia has one fewer oligarch. Most of his Yukos company has been gobbled up by companies connected to the state. Russia's image has taken a major beating because the trial had the air of politically motivated vengeance and looting. Investor confidence has been shaken. So was it worth it?

Since his arrest 18 months ago, Khodorkovsky has played the role of a classic victim of Russian authoritarianism. But the story of how the oligarchs came about is somewhat different, and in many ways, Khodorkovsky was the template for the breed. A member of the Communist Youth League when the Soviet Union began to fall apart, he quickly proved adept at taking advantage of the free-for-all that followed. He became one of the new entrepreneurs selected by Boris Yeltsin in 1995 for an outrageous deal in which businessmen were handed vast control over Russia's natural resources in exchange for financing Yeltsin's political survival. The beneficiaries became fabulously wealthy, and Khodorkovsky was arguably the most successful. At the time of his fall, Yukos was among the most respected businesses in Russia, both for its performance and its propriety.

Still, Russians have never made peace with the notion that a handful of men, most in their 30s, were suddenly rendered so rich and powerful. Worse, some began seeking ways to translate their wealth into political power. Certainly the government has a right to restore its authority over an economy that had fallen prey to gangster capitalism and corruption, and especially over strategic resources like oil and gas. Viktor Yushchenko, the reformist new president of Ukraine, has also made it his priority to renationalize some of the Ukrainian holdings from a handful of tycoons who secured them through shady political maneuvers.

But such a process can be useful only if it represents the ascendancy of law over banditry. That is especially critical in a country like Russia, where the rule of law is so little known and so badly understood. We criticized this trial because it was not fair, and a fair trial would have been so valuable to the development of Russia.

Khodorkovsky might well have gone free because the law is so vague and inconsistent and because, in the end, it was the government that handed him his riches. But the gains for the rule of law would have been great.

There is still time for the judge to redeem the process with a verdict that is perceived to be just. We hope that the new Ukrainian government learns from the Khodorkovsky trial that real justice is the only way to redress injustice.

This comment originally appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.