Khodorkovsky not planning a return to politics
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos oil company who was released early after spending 10 years in a Russia jail, does not know if or when he will return to Russia, but promised that he would do what he could for other political prisoners still in his home country.
He would not, however, get involved with politics in Russia, he insisted.
Khodorkovsky's comments came during a December 22 press conference in Berlin just days after his early release from prison after being pardoned by President Vladimir Putin. Upon his early release from jail he immediately flew to Germany to be with his family.
Shortly before Khodorkovsky spoke to journalists, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that as a free man, Khodorkovsky was free to return to Russia whenever he chose.
Khodorkovsky said, however, that he had been pardoned but not acquitted. In addition, he said he is still formally under investigation in connection with additional Yukos-related charges.
“I did not have a choice when I was being released,” Khodorkovsky told journalists. “When I was woken up at two o’clock in the morning by the chief of the jail, I was told that I was going home. It was only during the trip that I found the destination was Berlin," he said.
Despite reassurance from the Kremlin that he could return to Russia, Khodorkovsky told journalists that "formally, the Russian Supreme Court must confirm the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled that the investigation under the first Yukos case against myself and my friend Platon Lebedev must be dropped. So far, this has not happened. That is why for now, I cannot return."
Khodorkovsky has said that he plans to stay in Europe, where is currently has a 12-month Schengen visa. He told journalists that he did not yet know what he was going to do after his release. He said, however, that he wanted to help defend the rights of prisoners, and had no intention of going into politics.
Alexander Nekrasov, a political commentator, said he believed that if Khodorkovsky truly wants to defend prisoners’ rights, he simply cannot avoid politics.
"I find it strange that first he says he does not intend to go into politics, and then at the same press conference he adds that he wants to help Russia's political prisoners," Nekrasov said in an interview with the Russia Today news channel.
Some experts said that Khodorkovsky's early release could have been conditional on him making several pledges, and that he is going to abide by whatever he has promised.
“The relationship between Putin and Khodorkovsky has been a central point of Putin's entire administration,” says Nikolay Petrov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Because of that, "he was probably told not to go into politics, and not to try to reclaim Yukos assets, some of which have been taken over by Rosneft after the company’s bankruptcy. If Khodorkovsky tries to break these promises, the government has plenty of leverage to make him behave. For example, his ally Platon Lebedev still remains in jail.”
Another political analyst, Dmitry Oreshkin, said he believed that the agreement Khodorkovsky is believed to have struck with the authorities may even have been formalized on paper.
“The Kremlin does nothing without cast-iron guarantees. Without such guarantees Khodorkovsky simply would not have been freed,” Oreshkin said.
Analysts point at several clear advantages for the Kremlin for releasing Khodorkovsky's early release.
“On the one hand, pardoning Khodorkovsky has drawn the public’s attention away from problems in the Russian banking sector, from the economic slowdown, and from the decision to give Ukraine a generous $15 billion loan," said Kirill Petrov of the Minchenko Consulting company. “On the other hand, this will improve Russia's international image ahead of the Olympics.”
Speaking in an interview with RBTH, analyst Dmitry Babich argued that Khodorkovsky should not be regarded as Russia’s own Nelson Mandela.
“He was not actually involved in any political struggle in the 1990s. He was appointed deputy minister of economics, and after that appointment his company started to grow very rapidly," Babich said. "He is a typical representative of the 1990s era: a man who used whatever means were available to him to make his fortune. The only way he was involved in politics is by backing the liberal-democratic Yabloko party and the Communists during elections.”
Babich said that before Khodorkovsky fell out with Putin, his reputation in the West was not very good at all, a fact that "for some reason, everyone has forgotten about it."
In 2000 to 2001, Yukos had wanted to acquire several companies in Germany, but the Germans refused to allow it. It was said that the new Russian owners would not pay decent wages to German employees, and that those employees would be exploited, among other complaints, Babich said.
"Khodorkovsky was seen as one of the oligarchs," he added, saying that everything changed in 2003 after Khodorkovsky’s arrest, and "over the past decade foreign journalists have whitewashed the businessman’s reputation."
The efforts now being undertaken by Germany are an attempt to demonstrate to the world that it is possible to work with Russia, Babich said.
"Khodorkovsky's release has also produced clear benefits for Moscow itself, which has made an impressive liberal gesture," he said.