Two points from Bill Mann's article on the fiasco at Russian oil giant YUKOS (Pink Sheets: YUKOY) bear repeating. First: "Watch this story. It's extraordinarily important." And second: "How many other Russian companies do you suppose are going to make [YUKOS'] mistake now?"
The first point is true because the Russian stock market is today offering up the kind of opportunity that it generates every few years -- the chance to buy, to quote Bill one more time, "when everyone else is running away in terror."
The second quote is also telling. YUKOS' Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky made the cardinal mistake of Russian politics/business (the two are often intertwined). This rule was laid down in the aftermath of the murder of U.S. businessman Paul Tatum in 1996, shortly after he got into a business dispute with the city of Moscow. The rule was elegantly, if somewhat unprintably, summarized as "don't [mess] with the mayor."
Businessmen who publicly criticize the government in Russia in the way that Khodorkovsky and Tatum did have a tendency to wind up in jail or dead, respectively. Those who abide by Russia's rules of the game, on the other hand -- who stick to business and stay out of politics -- make out a little better.
And that is where investors are going all wrong on Russia. Lately, they have been punishing such fine companies as telecoms Mobile Telesystems
None of these companies have anything to do with Russia's oil sector in general or with Khodorkovsky's and YUKOS' legal troubles in particular. And once the political dust subsides, I expect that their share prices will rebound rather quickly. Wimm-Bill-Dann, for instance, is down more than 20% from its IPO price on very little relevant news. And intriguingly, it is down about 40% from the price at which it was shopping its shares to French dairy concern Groupe Danone
In summary, Russia seems awfully risky right now. And it is risky, especially for investors in companies that meddle in politics. But with risk comes opportunity, and I strongly suspect that a buying opportunity is what we are seeing on the Russian market right now.
Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article, although he has owned shares of Wimm-Bill-Dann in the past. In various combinations, he has lived, studied, and worked in and with businesses investing in Russia for the past decade.