A wise Japanese maxim says: “The expectation of a threat is worse than the threat itself.”
Only a handful of people are able to overcome their internal fear of danger. Russia and Ukraine saw proceedings in causes célèbres almost at the same time. In Moscow, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev are waiting for their verdicts in the second case that was brought against them. In Kyiv, a number of representatives of the previous government were arrested.
The trial over Mr. Khodorkovsky and the criminal persecution of ex-government officials and members of the Ukrainian opposition seem to be geared toward a common goal, namely sowing the seeds of fear. Make the opposition nervous; get every its member to think that they can be the next target. The message is, evidently, addressed not to the average opposition supporter out in the street with a poster in their hand. These people were recently given a different message — the dismantling of the tent village on the Maidan. The current message is intended for MPs and the previous government’s officials. They have something to lose. They have out-of-the-city villas, expensive cars and comfortable living none of which is easy to exchange for room and board in a prison. To go against authorities is to complicate one’s life.
The same thing is in Russia. The first prison sentence handed to Mr. Khodorkovsky clearly showed to all Russian oligarchs what they face if they choose to go against the will of the Russian government. After that not one Russian businessman dared do this. Mr. Khodorkovsky’s second term is, evidently, intended as a message to those who assumed, all of a sudden, that the arrival of President Dmitry Medvedev weakened the power of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
One gets a strong impression that the purpose of these imprisonment campaigns is to sow fear. However, the one who sows fears is usually afraid himself — afraid of his partners and opponents, members of his team, and, most of all, the people that can overcome its internal fear.