Former YUKOS head Mikhail Khodorkovsky and former Evroset owner Yevgeny Chichvarkin during an online news conference in the Moscow office of the Open Russian movement.Vitaliy Belousov/RIA Novosti
Their plan is simple: overthrow Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, form a temporary administration and then see how it goes. Two Russian émigré businessmen with revolutionary ambitions; Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Yevgeny Chichvarkin; are sitting across from each other, in London. The first is a former oil baron and the second, a former owner of Russia's largest mobile phone retailer. Their audience is in Moscow: the discussion is being broadcast via a tele-bridge.
Khodorkovsky posted a manifesto about the event three days before the broadcast, on April 15, on the site of his Open Russia foundation.
"Our objective in the relatively near future is to have Putin and his friends resign from the government, to launch a political process in Russia and guarantee the first absolutely open and honest elections,” it reads.
Neither Chichvarkin nor Khodorkovsky have been seen in Russia since they left. They are apparently convinced that revolution is now inevitable, and that it will be carried out by émigrés; by them personally.
"I never planned to get involved in politics," said Chichvarkin.
"I had 55 million customers, I serviced a third of the country's population," recalls Chichvarkin, sitting on the stage in a plaid suit and wearing a large earring.
He established the Evroset mobile telephone empire in 1997. In 2008, his office was inspected by authorities, who filed a lawsuit against him for kidnapping and extortion.
Chichvarkin is convinced that his company was raided as part of a takeover bid. He finally sold Evroset and, after emigrating, began selling high-quality wines.
"What is Chichvarkin known for? He is an eccentric both in life and in politics," said Alexei Zudin, a political analyst and member of the expert council at the Moscow-based Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies.
Zudin said Chichvarkin, who is extravagant both in dress and gesture, is a successful entrepreneur but a much smaller figure than Khodorkovsky and, "honestly speaking, is a real freak.”
After the government change in Ukraine, Chichvarkin reportedly wanted to become Ukrainian Minister of Economics, but that did not happen. In 2015 the mass media predicted he would become head of Ukrnaft, Ukraine's leading oil and gas concern, but that also did not materialize.
Now, from his stage in London, he says a new ‘Maidan’ awaits Ukraine, and that “colour” revolutions "should not be feared." Khodorkovsky smiles at his words.
Khodorkovsky is former head of the now-defunct Russian oil company Yukos, which was controversially dismembered by the Russian state in 2003, after he was arrested on what many believe to be trumped-up charges of fraud. Khodorkovsky had openly hinted that he was planning to enter politics.
After spending 10 years in jail, Khodorkovsky was unexpectedly pardoned. He then made it clear that he no longer had plans to get involved in politics and left the country. After the Olympics in Sochi, however, he said the government had become increasingly harsh in its attempts to crack down on civil society and freedom of speech.
It was from London that Khodorkovsky began speaking of a revolution. Meanwhile, a lawsuit was filed against him in Russia, renewing an investigation into the contract killing of the mayor of the Siberian city of Neftyugansk in 1998, on charges widely seen as fabricated.
Khodorkovsky has not said anything different from his previous public appearances: The forthcoming State Duma elections are "non-elections," he has said; there will also be no change in government in 2018, while the revolution is planned for 2024 "or several years before that."
Meanwhile, Chichvarkin believes that changes of power should be carried out through educational initiatives and reminded the audience that it was precisely with a teachers' demonstration that governmental change began in Czechoslovakia in 1989 (actually it was a student demonstration – RIR).
Political scientists are shrugging their shoulders, calling these statements "clearly venturesome." And the ever-serious, ever-rational Khodorkovsky appears out of place on the same stage as Chichvarkin.
Do the London "revolutionaries" understand this? Probably they do. But it is important to establish a position before the elections begin, notes Mikhail Remizov, president of the Institute of National Strategy. If everything goes calmly, fine, but if there is turbulence "they can always say that it is due to their efforts," he says.
Georgy Satarov, president of the INDEM Foundation, noted that the revolutionaries know that if you cannot take significant action, then you should create local informational challenges and wait for the government to make a mistake. In certain circumstances, if they do not create tensions they can at least make an impact. But, for this to happen, many factors must coincide.
The political system in Russia is now extremely stable, while the domestic crisis is an issue that does not depend on political émigrés very much, conclude the analysts.
The government at the moment can ban any activity linked to Khodorkovsky and his protégé's structures in Russia (an hour before the beginning of the tele-bridge, the upper chamber of Russia's parliament permitted a ban on Open Russia – RIR).
It is no secret that the two businessmen openly define themselves as anti-constitutional forces.
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