A court ordered Russia’s largest privately owned business conglomerate [Sistema] on Wednesday to pay $2.3 billion to the country’s state oil company [Rosneft]…
The conflict pits two of Russia’s largest companies. As the overall economy stagnates amid sanctions and low oil prices, the country’s elite may end up fighting over a smaller pie, with businesses seeking to gain advantage by using courts and law enforcement agencies widely seen as vulnerable to corruption.
This sounds to me like a sensible description of the conflict, but it downplays the asymmetry between the two companies’ ability to enlist courts and law enforcement as reliable allies. La Fontaine summed it up around 350 years ago:
La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure:
Nous l’allons montrer tout à l’heure.
We’ve just been shown the truth of this, once again: the arguments of the strong are always the best. Or, as Ivan Krylov put it 140 years after La Fontaine, and as every Russian schoolchild knows, “for the powerful, it’s always the powerless who are at fault.” Krylov’s wolf, tired of arguing with his prey, sums up his legal philosophy aptly: “you are guilty, at least, on the grounds of my appetite.”
Now, we may not necessarily have a wolf vs. lamb situation here – two predators, perhaps, of unequal caliber. Not a chasm of difference. However, just before the final lines of their fables comes the moment when we must decisively part ways with La Fontaine and Krylov. In both poems, the wolf cuts short the dialog and carries off the lamb into the depth of the woods. The French master dryly reports that the predator proceeds to eat his catch “sans autre forme de procès,” which can be rendered as without further ado or without due process.
This is not how things play out in Russia, where the president is a law school graduate and the prime minister is a former professor of civil and Roman law. The “forme de procès” assumes an utmost importance. As long as the codified procedures are followed, things are being done according to the law. And if it’s the pillars and lieutenants of the regime who win and independents and opponents who lose, see Article 1: the arguments of the strong are always the best. The Russian courts agree and rule accordingly.