A Dutch court has just reversed another earlier Dutch court ruling that reversed an even earlier Dutch court ruling. Russia had been sued by a company representing the shareholders of erstwhile oil giant Yukos. The latest iteration, reversing the reversal and taking us back to the original judgment, demands that Russia pay $50 billion to its shareholders. Yukos was nationalized in the early 2000s, on the grounds of failure to pay tax arrears after the arrest of its CEO for tax evasion.
So, 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 behavior of other Dutch courts. In 2001, Slobodan Milošević appeared at the Hague charged with crimes against humanity, genocide – the full package. And, quite rightly, said most Westerners, because had not their media already named him the “butcher of the Balkans”?
In 2016, the International Court of Justice ruled that maybe he hadn’t been as guilty as first assumed. But it was too late: Milošević had died in his prison cell 10 years before, with the trial still rolling on.
The Netherlands is also 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 former Secretary of State John Kerry that US intelligence resources had watched the whole thing unfold. And it’s been a fact-free Gish gallop ever since.
After several investigations, suspiciously dependent on Ukrainian intelligence sources, social media, and the US-government funded agency 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 parts it claimed were from the surface-to-air missile 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 anti-aircraft unit in the west of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in December 1986.
The judges decided that the documents were irrelevant because 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. Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, is approaching her third year of house arrest in Canada. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been in a British prison with one of the most severe regimes for the past 18 months and is approaching the second year of his extradition hearing. Maria Butina, convicted in 2018 of acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia, was in a US prison for five months, often in solitary confinement, on very questionable charges. Senior French executive Frédéric Pierucci arrested in 2013 and later imprisoned in a US maximum-security facility for unwittingly breaching American bribery laws. Or the US’s open-ended Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act – a federal law that, in 2017, imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Or the huge fine imposed on Russia’s Gazprom energy corporation in a Polish court just last month over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Or they might consider that Venezuela stored its national gold reserves in London for safekeeping but can’t have it back (although that judgment has recently been reversed – for now). Or that the European Union extended its sanctions on Russia because it couldn’t prove its innocence of the latest accusation over Ukraine. 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 Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky 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 a conference of the Valdai Discussion Club think tank last month, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia no longer looked to Western 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 not an arbiter, but a weapon.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.