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Exile has only hardened his resolve. Before escaping to Europe in 2013 Mikhail Khodorkovsky had been thrown into jail languishing in Russia’s remote prison colonies for a decade. In an exclusive interview with Euronews, which will be aired on Friday May 3 at 19:35 CET, Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, tells us that return to his homeland is inevitable. ’I’m absolutely sure that I will be coming back to Russia’. However, that potential return has been further complicated with an escalation in conflict with the Kremlin last December. Khodorkovsky was charged in absentia with two murders that took place in the late 1990s, charges which the former oil magnate denies, arguing that they are politically motivated.
These latest accusations do not seem to have deterred the 52-year old who, from exile, has firmly entered the political arena and with his foundation Open Russia is assiduously working towards his goal of a democratic political transition in his homeland. With parliamentary elections in September, one gets the impression this is a man testing out the campaign trail.
“I’m not taking on the President, but the system he embodies. I think that Russia deserves better.”
“Today our task is to put together a team that will be able to lead necessary reforms in the transition period in order to organise the first fair elections. My present day task is forming this team.”
However clear about his goals for Russia, Khodorkovsky does not want to be pinned down on whether he envisages himself challenging President Putin for the presidency, or less still, whether Crimea should be returned to Ukraine: “We need a solution to this problem, and this solution should take into account the opinions of people living in Crimea, without a doubt, but also Russian citizens and Ukrainian citizens.”
Mikhail Khordorkovsky made his fortune in the chaotic Yeltsin years during the controversial privatisation of state assets. He bought Yukos Oil for a mere $ 350 million and under his direction it became one of Russia’s most successful companies producing 20% of Russia’s oil. However in 2003 the oligarch was jailed on what were seen by many as trumped up tax evasion charges. Khodorkovsky had made no secret of his support for political parties opposed to Vladimir Putin.
Russia has a murky track record when it comes to the assassination of members of the political opposition, however when asked if he fears for his life, Khodorkovsky is dismissive:
“Listen, I spent 10 years of my life in a prison barrack. I was struck with a knife and I could be killed any day with a very simple order from the Kremlin. Wherever I am today, I feel much safer than then, so I just don’t think about it.”
He does not seem to want to dwell on his time in prison, though he hopes Russians will appreciate how the experienced changed him from the oligarch to the man he is now: “I very much hope people will see me as a human being, as I am now, after 10 years in prison and after what I would call an exile”. He did tell us that his incarceration had given him the ability to take a long-term perspective on events:
“I did spend 10 years in prison, in harsh conditions. Of course, I have grown there and prison gave me time to rethink myself. Time does not have for me the same significance it had before. In prison I learnt to think in longer terms.”
Reading between the lines, for Khodorkovsky revolution will not happen overnight in Russia, but when it does, he wants to be at the heart of it.
Watch the interview on Euronews at 19:35 CET or at euronews.com/globalconversation