Khodorkovsky sees revolution coming to Russia

Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Exiled former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said that Russia is on an “inevitable” path to revolution. The oligarch, who left Russia after his release from jail in 2013, is now the subject, in absentia, in a murder investigation launched against him by Russian authorities. RIR asked experts about Khodorkovsky's future and likely political prospects in Russia.

Sitting in exile, oil magnate-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky said, a revolution in Russia is "inevitable." It was the only way to change the country’s government. The former owner of the now-defunct Russian oil company Yukos said the only question is how to make the change of power in Russia "relatively peaceful."

Khodorkovsky made the statement during a conference call from London with the Moscow office of his Open Russia organization on December 9, a day after Russian authorities launched a criminal case against him, in absentia, for suspected murder of a Siberian official in 1998. He has been placed on a federal ‘wanted’ list.

The next day (December 10), the Russian Prosecutor General's Office accused Khodorkovsky of calling for the overthrow of constitutional order and sent a request to initiate criminal proceedings, after which the former head of Yukos was charged, in absentia, with organizing the murder of the mayor of the oil city of Nefteyugansk, and the attempted murder of two individuals.

This is not the first time Khodorkovsky has been the subject of a criminal investigation. The oligarch was first arrested in 2003 on charges of fraud, in a case widely seen as trumped-up: Khodorkovsky had challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin on corruption, and Yukos, at the time one of Russia’s largest and most successful companies, was controversially broken up by the state. Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison in May 2005. 

In late 2013, in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin unexpectedly pardoned Khodorkovsky, who subsequently left the country and has since been based mainly in Switzerland. After his release Khodorkovsky said, during an interview with journalists in Berlin, that he would not get involved in politics but would concentrate on human rights activities. However, Russian commentators say while he has no plans to return to Russia now, the idea that the exiled oligarch is renouncing politics is no longer relevant.

In fact, Khodorkovsky has made no attempt to conceal his political ambitions. A year ago, he expressed his readiness to head the government or the country if he finds support or "if this is necessary to overcome the crisis."

Hands now untied

Many political analysts are of the opinion that Khodorkovsky’s release from jail must have been conditional on him agreeing to certain terms with the Kremlin, which may have included a pledge to stay out of politics. However, the details of any “gentleman’s agreement” that may have been concluded between Khodorkovsky and the Kremlin, prior to or after his release, are cloaked in secrecy.

"No word has more meanings than politics and no epithet is more ambiguous than political," said Yekaterina Schulman, a political analyst and professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

Some interpret Khodorkovsky's words to mean that he would not run for president himself, some think he will finance political parties, while others believe he will highlight socially vital issues and support the mass media. The most important thing about his statement, say analysts, is that Khodorkovsky no longer sees himself as bound to the Russian government by certain responsibilities.

"He is offended by being invited to the questioning as a defendant, his hands are now untied and he will do everything he thinks is necessary," said Schulman, adding that everything else, including talk about an upcoming revolution, is a verbal way of attracting attention. A revolution is not created by the will of one or a few people, he explained. There needs to be a demand for it in society, and the country must have certain conditions for this to happen.

According to Ilya Yashin, opposition politician and deputy chairman of PARNAS people's freedom party, Khodorkovsky's latest statement increases the risks for his supporters in Russia and it will be very difficult to work in such conditions.

"But on the other hand, who has it easy now?" said Yashin, who believes that as long as Putin is president, Khodorkovsky will not be able to return to Russia, although the former Yukos head still has levers of influence. "He has enormous life experience, intellectual potential, supporters and an organization in Russia that carries out many educational and electoral projects," said Yashin.

Outside the system

Yet according to Pavel Salin, director of the Centre for Political Studies at the Russian State Financial University, Khodorkovsky’s criminal record and the current criminal case destroy any electoral prospects – the former oil baron cannot run for office. While Khodorkovsky’s polished internet image is proof that he has good PR experts working for him, there are problems with his influence on political processes, says Salin.

While Khodorkovsky’s polished internet image is proof that he has good PR experts working for him, there are problems with his influence on political processes, says Salin.

“The agenda that Khodorkovsky is trying to promote with his resources and through his like-minded associates (an independent court, the annulment of ‘repressive laws’ and the release of political prisoners) does not interest many people at the moment. Today the most important issues are social programs and the economy.”

In any case, argues Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the independent Institute of National Strategy, a person living outside Russia cannot seriously influence the current political system.

"If in a few years he is able to accumulate a significant share of political and moral authority, then when the government changes, something that will not be a result of his efforts, there could be a demand for him in Russia. But realistically today he cannot be a leader," said Belkovsky, since in the two years that have passed since his release certain aspects of his personality have "faded."

"It’s one thing when a person is in jail and is simultaneously a political prisoner and a martyr, it’s another when he resides in Switzerland and the UK."

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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