In early 2001, as George W. Bush's administration moved into the White House, one of Russia's wealthiest men, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, sought a meeting with the new national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. The New York Times, quoting an unnamed former staff member, reported that National Security Council analysts were asked to perform a background check.
Khodorkovsky did not get the meeting, part of his efforts to secure approval from the American establishment, because of allegations of past business improprieties, the former staff member said, also noting that Khodorkovsky spent heavily in Washington to court Washington's inner circle.
But Khodorkovsky's steady efforts to win access to other influential Americans have paid off. Last July he met with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to discuss America's oil policy. Former President George Bush traveled to Russia in September and spoke at a dinner attended by Khodorkovsky, who was chief executive of Yukos Oil Co. until he quit Monday amid fraud and embezzlement charges.
The Carlyle Group, an investment bank that retained the elder Bush as an adviser until a few weeks ago, has a close business relationship with Khodorkovsky. Although Bush was in Russia as a Carlyle representative, the bank said, his visit had nothing to do with oil deals and he did not meet privately with Khodorkovsky.
Last summer, too, Khodorkovsky traveled to a meeting of business leaders in Sun Valley, Idaho, as a guest of a former senator, Bill Bradley, the New Jersey Democrat. Bradley also advises the Open Russia Foundation, a Russian philanthropy based in Britain that is bankrolled by Khodorkovsky.
In his efforts to carve out contacts and make his name, Khodorkovsky has also donated substantially to philanthropies in Russia and to American think tanks.
People close to him said he had three motives: improving his reputation after surviving Russia's scandal-plagued economic privatization; refashioning operations and perceptions of Yukos in preparation for a merger with a Western company; and the furtherance of economic and political changes in Russia.
"He wanted to have ties to the United States and he had a goal of exporting oil to the United States," said Sarah Carey, a Washington lawyer who sits on Yukos' board and is a close adviser to Khodorkovsky. "In order to do that you need to develop constituencies here in Washington."
Through Yukos, Khodorkovsky has given handsome sums to American organizations, including a $1-million donation to the Library of Congress and a $500,000 pledge to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, home to some of the most oft-quoted analysts of Russian affairs.
Others in Washington said that influence is not so easily purchased.
"What distinguishes Khodorkovsky is that he recognized that the rule of law was necessary to legitimize his company," said Steve Biegun, who is a national security specialist on the staff of Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican Senate leader, and has met several times with Khodorkovsky.
Americans take charge
MOSCOW _ A Russian-born U.S. citizen took over as head of the oil giant Yukos on Tuesday, one of three Americans tapped for top positions as the company sought to distance itself from its jailed former chief.
Simon Kukes was named chief executive, replacing Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Bruce Misamore, an American, retained his post of chief financial officer in the new management board.
The company also appointed Steven Theede, another American, as executive director and president of Yukos-Moscow, a subsidiary that handles many of Yukos' corporate functions.