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Lack of conviction: Obama and the trial of Russia's leading political prisoner

The bogus second conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon turned prominent dissident, calls for both President Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Putin's protégé, to stand up strongly for the rule of law in Russia.

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Talk about timing. A Russian court waited until this week – after the US Senate had ratified an arms-control treaty with Moscow – before handing down yet another conviction on that country’s best-known political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Sentencing is expected in coming days.

The conviction also came as the West is preoccupied with the winter holidays and not focused on the rise of human rights abuses in Russia.

But here’s the best timing: Mr. Khodorkovsky will now likely be sentenced to several more years in a Siberian penal colony – further isolating him until well after next year’s parliamentary elections and a 2012 vote for president.

The former oil tycoon’s real crime was that he dared to challenge Vladimir Putin’s iron-fisted rule by funding pro-democracy political activists. For that, he was first sentenced for fraud and tax evasion in 2003. Now he’s been convicted of theft, a charge that not only appears ludicrous but seems timed to prevent him from upsetting Prime Minister Putin’s apparent plan to become president again.

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