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Russia Angered by US View of Yukos Case

Russia's foreign minister criticized the United States on Sunday for expressing concern about actions against the oil giant Yukos, but President Vladimir Putin's new chief of staff said he doubted the wisdom of freezing a large chunk of the company's shares.

Last week, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration regarded the arrest and jailing of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the freezing of 44 per cent of the company's shares, as raising "serious questions about the rule of law in Russia."

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking on state television, reacted angrily.

"The United States is trying to place the actions of the judicial organs of Russia in doubt. This is interference in the judicial affairs of another state that is not acceptable, and should not be, in the normal terms of democratic society," Ivanov said. 

He noted that several massive financial scandals have hit the United States and he accused Washington of employing a "double standard" because "the State Department did not express its anxiety about any of those noisy scandals, did not interfere in the judicial process."

"To teach other people that's the fashion in Washington," Ivanov said.

The remark reflected the Kremlin's long-standing irritation with what it regards as official American arrogance, although it has largely held back on such criticism as Russian-US relations have become closer since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Russian officials have said the moves against Russia's biggest oil producer, which began in July when a top Yukos shareholder was arrested, are strictly a matter of investigating and prosecuting crimes. Khodorkovsky is charged with fraud, forgery and tax evasion.

But many analysts and politicians say the moves appear to be a vendetta against Khodorkovsky for his support of opposition parties.

The moves against Khodorkovsky triggered a sharp fall in Russia's stock market the benchmark RTS index dropped about 15 per cent last week and analysts worried the actions could endanger the country's recovery from the 1998 financial crisis.

"Consequences of actions that have not been carefully thought-out will immediately affect the economy and stir up political affairs," Putin's chief of staff Dmitry Medvedev said on state television. "A question arises as to how legally efficient the sequestration of the Yukos shares really is."

Medvedev was appointed chief of staff late Thursday after Putin released Alexander Voloshin, who reportedly submitted his resignation after Khodorkovsky's arrest.

Voloshin was the last major Kremlin figure from the Boris Yeltsin era to have been held over under Putin. His departure indicated that Putin was tightening his grip on the Kremlin by cutting out the old elite.

(China Daily November 3, 2003)

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