Former Yukos vice-president Vasily Alexanyan walked free from court after the collapse of money-laundering charges against him - but that doesn't mean the political tide is shifting in the on-going saga of Russia's most controversial oil firm.
While trial judge Olga Nedelina ruled that the statute of limitations scuppered the case against Alexanyan - seriously ill and visibly frail as he appeared at Simonovsky District Court in Moscow - there was more good news for Yukos in the testimonies of Putin allies German Gref and Viktor Khristenko in the on-going embezzlement trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev.
But none of this should be seen as a sea change in the long running battle between Khodorkovsky and his associates, who continue to insist that the Russian government drove the hugely powerful Yukos firm into bankruptcy in order to neutralise the CEO's growing influence and enrich state-controlled oil firm Rosneft.
Alexanyan's lawyer Gevorg Dangyan said that his client’s case did not suggest that the court would soften its position on other Yukos cases, a view backed up by analysts.
“There are no serious reasons for keeping a terminally ill person in prison and Medvedev demonstrated a soft side by releasing him,”.
Across town at Khamovnichesky court, Khodorkovsky remains the star attraction as he fights claims that he stole Yukos' entire oil output from 1998 to 2003 - and his lawyer Yury Schmidt expected that to continue.
“There is a growing trend towards liberalization,” he said by telephone. “But you shouldn’t draw any far reaching conclusions from this.” He was sceptical about the significance of Gref’s and Khristenko’s testimonies, saying that the judge must have had political approval to summon them to court. Their evidence stated that they had no knowledge of the defendants embezzling 350 million tons of Yukos oil.
“They want to create an illusion, so they can say that not all of the defence’s motions have been rejected. This could be no more than a tactic.”
Lebedev’s lawyer Konstantin Rivkin called the testimonies a positive sign not just for the case but for the country, although he too cautioned about drawing premature conclusions and said that he wanted to see results before he could believe in light at the end tunnel for his client.
Analysts remain divided over what Gref and Kristchenko’s testimonies indicate. They do, however, agree that politics have been clouding the issue. Uralsib Strategist Chris Weafer and Kremlinologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya believe that the testimonies could mark a watershed, Kryshtanovskaya says that the fact that they appeared in court at all is unusual. She added that President Medvedev has spearheaded a political trend. Khordordokovsky would have this to thank, she claimed, if he was unexpectedly acquitted.
Pribylovsky agrees that if Khordorkhovsky was acquitted then it would be due to political directive, from the President. “[But] while power is concentrated in Putin’s hands there won’t be any negotiations with Khordorkovsky and I don’t see any change in his fate…. If they suddenly let him go it is an indication that Putin is losing power.”
Russian officials have consistently refuted accusations of political interference in the case.