Once the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was released from prison on Friday. Imprisoned for tax evasion and fraud, Khodorkovsky has served 10 years in prison. The release on Friday was hurried, making little time for preparation.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was originally due to be released next year, but was prompted by former German Foreign Minister Hans- Dietrich to apply for a pardon. The pardon was signed by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Putin is said to be the reason for Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment. It is said that the power and influence once wielded by the former Yukos Oil CEO posed a major threat to Putin’s political ambitions.
According to Khodorkovsky, he submitted an official plea, along with a personal letter addressed to President Putin. In the letter he outlined his plans and ambitions after release. Putin announced the decision on Thursday. This was a relief for humanitarian groups and foreign governments which have criticized throughout the years for the ill-treatment Khodorkovsky and other political prisoners received.
If prison was meant to silence Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s voice it served only to strengthen it. During his years in prison, the now 50-year-old, hand penned numerous editorials opposing the government. He also published six books. With this new voice Khodorkovsky drew the hearts of the Russian people closer to him.
In an editorial for Vanity Fair, Marsha Gessen stated, “It is perfectly clear why Khodorkovsky remains in confinement. If released he may be capable of mobilizing a true mass movement.”
So then why did President Putin sign the pardon to release Khodorkovski on Friday? Does Russia’s former richest man, now most loved political dissenter, no longer pose a threat as a political liability?
Critics of Putin say that decision to release Khodorkovski from prison was strategically made in order to influence foreign opinion about his government in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Others say that after 12 years as president, Putin has new confidence in himself and believes he is now too powerful to be overthrown by the likes of Khodorkovsky. With new laws recently put in place to suppress the efforts of political opponents, and a tight leash on media, Putin’s government seems impenetrable.
Khodorkovsky claims that he has no political aspirations. During one of his many interviews on Sunday, he promised to focus his time working toward getting other political prisoners released. Many of his former Yukos coworkers were imprisoned as well, including his long time business partner Platon Lebidev, the former head of security at Yukos.
When asked whether he holds any grudge against Putin the answer was no. Khodorkovsky stated that he does not believe in dwelling in the past, and revenge is no option for him as he does not consider it to be a rational behavior.
Flown straight to Germany following his release from prison, Khodorkovsky states that he will not be returning to Russia anytime soon. There is still a law suit against him in place that could be used by the Russian government to prevent him from leaving the country. With his ailing mother receiving treatment in Germany, Khodorkovsy admitted that he misses his country, but would prefer to be able to freely travel back and forth.
By Earnestine Jones