What can be gleaned from Dmitri Medvedev’s decision to review 32 criminal cases, notably Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s, right after Vladimir Putin claimed presidential victory? Arrested in 2003 and imprisoned on tax evasion and fraud charges the former oil oligarch was once Russia’s richest man.
Described by Putin as a thief, who should rot in jail, Khodorkovsky received a prolonged sentence in 2010.
While some suggest the latest review is a genuine olive branch from the out-going Medvedev to protesters and the Kremlin’s opponents, others see it as a fig leaf to mask allegations of an election fix.
The ex-Yukos boss’ supporters, including his son insist the charges are politically motivated. Euronews’ Andrei Beketov spoke to Pavel Khodorkovsky to discuss what he made of the latest decision by the Kremlin to order a legal review of the case against his father.
Euronews Andrei Beketov: ‘‘Pavel Mikhailovich Khodorkovsky, welcome to euronews. Russia’s soon to be ex-President Dmitri Medvedev has ordered a legal review of the Yukos case. What do think about that?’‘
Pavel Khodorkovsky: ‘‘This initiative is Putin’s. It’s aimed at containing the growing political opposition in Russia. The protesters on the streets want to see an end to corruption, the freeing of political prisoners and judicial reform.’‘
euronews: “Wait a minute. Who’s idea was it? The case review was announced by Medvedev. He’s naturally more liberal than Putin. Is this a good cop/bad cop tactic or are you saying this is a ploy by the bad cop?’‘
Pavel Khodorkovsky: ‘‘Some think this is a good will gesture by President Medvedev in the last few months of his presidency – that he wants to deliver on his promises. But just looking at the last four years of Medvedev’s rule, it’s obvious that he’s made no major decisions without first consulting Putin.’‘
euronews: “With the presidency sown up for another six years, perhaps Vladimir Putin no longer sees your father as a threat?”
Pavel Khodorkovsky: “My father hasn’t and doesn’t pose a threat to Putin politically. He has always said that when he’s released he will stay in Russia unless he is forced to emigrate. He has not stated any intention to become an active politician or a pretender to the presidency or the office of prime minister. He has plans to continue his education programmes, something he was doing before his arrest. However, in Putin’s eyes he poses a threat. He sees my father as a champion of public opinion. This treat perceived by Putin is making both him and Russia paranoid.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Mikhail Khodrovsky was a successful Jewish businessman making money from oil, something a large number of people viewed as national property. Consequently many Russians were initially suspicious of him. But, that feeling appears to have changed somewhat. Some now see him as a martyr. His work behind bars and the public letters he has written seem to have given him considerable political clout. Do you think he’ll be seen as a Mandela like figure when he’s freed from jail?’‘
Pavel Khodorkovsky: ‘‘First of all, I hope he won’t stay in prison as long as Mandela. My father’s release will become more likely if the protest movement in Russia gains momentum. I think this may happen in the next year or two. By then, new political leaders will have emerged.’‘
euronews: ‘‘Would you go back to Russia if the political situation there changes significantly?’‘
Pavel Khodorkovsky: ‘‘My father has specifically asked me not to return to Russia while he’s still behind bars. If that changes and Russia returns to a path of democratic development, then of course, I would like to return home, work there and actively take part in Russian life and civil society.”