First published at RT with some additions and deletions and hyperlinks stripped out.
A Dutch court has just reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling which reversed an earlier Dutch court ruling. Russia had been sued by a company representing Yukos shareholders. The latest iteration, reversing the reversal and taking us back to the original judgement, demands Russia pay $50 billion. (Yukos was nationalised on the grounds of failure to pay tax arrears after the arrest of its CEO for tax evasion.)
What should Moscow do? It has appealed but perhaps it should think about whether it still wants to play the game. Let’s look at the behaviour of other Dutch courts. Slobodan Milošević appeared at the Hague charged with crimes against humanity, genocide – the full package – in 2001. And quite rightly said most Westerners – had not their media had already named him the “butcher of the Balkans“? In 2016 the International Court of Justice ruled that perhaps he hadn’t been as guilty as all that. Too late: Milošević had died in his prison cell ten years before, the trial still rolling on. The Netherlands is in charge of the investigation into the destruction of the MH-17 flight over Ukraine in 2014. Again we had immediate Western news assertions that Putin and Russia were responsible and the personal assurance of John Kerry that US intelligence resources had watched the whole thing. And it’s been a fact-free Gish gallop ever since. After several investigations, suspiciously dependent on Ukrainian intelligence sources, social media and Bellingcat, with no one asking where the “we saw it” was, the trial of four individuals began in March 2020 and has been proceeding at the same comfortable pace as the Milošević trial. In 2018 Ukraine, without the least suspicion of a chain of evidence, produced some missile parts that it claimed were from the SAM that was said to have shot the plane down. The parts had numbers, numbers can be traced and the missile factory traced them. They were parts of a missile shipped to an AA unit in the west of the Ukrainian SSR in December 1986. The judges decided that the documents were irrelevant because while they “may say something about where the missile was between 86 and 91, but they say nothing about where the missile was in July 2014“. (Presumably a daring raid from Donetsk to an ammo dump in western Ukraine had happened; which nobody noticed.)
So one might ask what Russia can expect from any trial held in the Netherlands except an interminable process until the defendant dies.
Russians might then turn their attention to the practice of the rule of law in other Western countries today. Meng Wanzhu is approaching her third year of house arrest in Canada. Julian Assange has been in one of the most severe British prisons for eighteen months and is approaching the second year of his trial. Mariya Butina: in a US prison, often in solitary, on very questionable charges. Venezuela stored its gold in London for safekeeping but can’t have it back (that judgement reversed for now). Or Frédéric Pierucci. Or the EU sanctioning Russia because it couldn’t prove its innocence of the latest accusation. A big fine in a Polish court over the Nord Stream pipeline. The open-ended CAATSA. Russian observers might be forgiven if they regarded this as not rule of law but war of law – lawfare.
Moscow has generally played the game and accepted Western Court rulings: and sometimes, they’ve gone its way: for example the European Court of Human Rights ruling of 2011 that the case against Khodorkovskiy had not been politically motivated. But, given the relentless cascade of accusations – redoubled in the past five years – perhaps Moscow should reconsider on the grounds that Western “justice” will never give it a fair shake.
Will it do so? Well, there have been some hints. At the Valdai conference Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia no longer looked to Europe as an example and was not going to be its vassal. The Constitution was recently amended to make Russian law primary. These would appear to be clues that Moscow is at least pondering the conclusion that Western courts are a weapon and. A pity, but there it is. As Margarita Simonyan said: