Vladimir Putin has announced that he will pardon a man many believe to be his arch enemy in Russia, the former oligarch and oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky. In Russia the term oligarch is commonly used to describe someone who amassed great wealth as a business magnate after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was once the richest man living in Russia and a strong foe to Putin. Putin’s decision to pardon the former oligarch is being seen as an appeasement step made in preparation for the soon to be held Sochi Winter Olympics. Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment was seen by many around the world as a gross mishandling of human rights and one of the largest examples of Putin’s tyrannical rule.
In what is being seen as fairly impromptu press conference that wound up taking nearly four hours, Putin commented on his decision to free the man he had kept in Serbian prison, amidst horrible conditions for so long.
“He has served more than ten years, that is a serious term, I think that a decision must be made,” Putin said.
Khodorkovsky was serving his time in what is referred to as “gulag light” but is reported to never have written an appeal. Putin said that he had submitted one such letter to Putin “very recently.” Both Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers and his mother say that they had no knowledge of any such letter.
That piece of information has led some to speculate whether Putin created this clemency letter to take some of the heat off of his shoulders
Putin’s decision to grant a pardon to oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky his former arch enemy is not the only pardon on the list for Putin. Russia has also announced that members of the band Pussy Riot Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will also be granted amnesty.
Pussy Riot is a feminist punk band from Moscow who performed at The Cathedral of Christ the Savior back in February 2012. Church officials stopped their protest but the group released a video of their performance entitled “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!.” The video was intended as an indictment of the Orthodox Church’s support of Putin during his election campaign. Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were then jailed on charges of hooliganism.
Khodorkovsky was the founder of the Yukos Oil Company which was a symbol of the kind of emerging capitalism that was flourishing in Russia in the 1990s. Khodorkovsky built his company by being an insider in the days after the fall of the Soviet Union and is known to have had his hand in many dirty dealings.
However, it is also recognized by the international community that while Khodorkovsky was no angel he was also sentenced on many erroneous charges that were stark examples of the kind of political process Putin’s Russia was employing.
Khodorkovsky will not return to being Putin’s biggest foe anytime soon. He has lost all the money he made while in prison and Putin’s grip on Russia could not be much stronger. Putin’s decision to pardon his former arch enemy, the oil tycoon Khodorkovsky is being seen as a show of good faith before the start of the Winter Olympics. As February gets closer many eyes will turn to Russia to see what Putin’s next move will be.
By Nick Manai