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To ease investment jitters, Medvedev allies float Khordorkovsky release

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Analysts point out that Dvorkovich is a staunchly loyal Medvedev man, who is unlikely to go off script – especially on an issue that has explosive implications for the open struggle between Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin over who is to be the Kremlin presidential nominee in elections that are just over a year away.

Another sign Wednesday is a column by Gleb Pavlovsky, a longtime Kremlin adviser, posted on the state-run English-language TV network Russia Today's website that calls the Khodorkovsky verdict "excessively cruel" and openly doubts that the court was acting independently.

"These signs reveal an uneasiness among Russia's top elite about the Khodorkovsky case," says Sergei Strokan, a columnist with the liberal Moscow daily newspaper Kommersant. "There is a feeling that this case is getting too big, and it's not going to go away unless, maybe, something about it gets changed."

After coming to power a decade ago, Mr. Putin singled out Khodorkovsky for prosecution after he, almost alone among Russia's top business leaders, refused to stop funding political opposition and civil society groups.

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