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Khodorkovsky’s ‘crisis manager’ offer
From the Financial Times of Fri, 19 Dec 2014 13:53:11 GMT
epa03999133 Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky holds a press conference at the Berlin Wall Museum, in Berlin, Germany, 22 December 2013 to discuss his future plans, two days after he received a pardon from prison from Russian President Vladimir Putin. khodorkovsky, 50, who was once the richest man in Russia and spent 10 years in jail after being convicted of tax evasion and embezzlement, flew to Berlin on 20 December 2013. He has been given a one-year visa by Germany. EPA/OLE SPATA©EPA

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former oligarch who became Russia’s most famous political prisoner, is proposing himself as a “crisis manager” to bring real democracy to the country if President Vladimir Putin leaves office.

In a Lunch with the FT interview, Russia’s one-time richest man, worth $15bn at his height, said he was ready to be interim leader, if Russians wanted him, and push through constitutional reforms to establish the rule of law. But he would then organise free elections and stand down.

Mr Khodorkovsky also warned that Mr Putin had become a threat to Europe and might launch further “adventures” after his military incursion in Ukraine, to bolster his popularity and hold on to power through elections in 2018.

“What he’s done in Russia, to resolve specific questions, is destroy institutions,” he said. “What he’s doing in Europe is destroying the rules of the game.”

On his own potential role in Russia, the former owner of the Yukos oil company said he was “by mentality a crisis manager”.

“My personal interest is what I can do — and that’s [lead] a transitional government, which carries out political reform. And that means only one thing — rule of law.”

Mr Khodorkovsky said Russia’s economic crisis was unlikely to provoke a popular uprising. But it was putting immense pressure on the president who might potentially leave office in several ways, including through a “palace coup”.

The ex-oligarch, now living in Switzerland, was speaking a year after his surprise release by Mr Putin. He served just over 10 years in jail for fraud, tax evasion and embezzlement, but was named a political prisoner by Amnesty International. He had clashed publicly with Mr Putin before his arrest, and shown signs of political ambitions.

His humanitarian pardon to care for his sick mother was seen in part as a goodwill gesture by Mr Putin before last February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. But Ukraine conflict pushed Russia into a cold war-style confrontation with the west and, together with the plunging oil price, into a deep economic crisis.

Many analysts dismiss Mr Khodorkovsky’s proposals as far-fetched, and polls show many Russians distrust him.

He admits only about 20 per cent of Russians share his belief in “European values”. But some liberals see him as a potential rallying figure.

Asked at an annual press conference on Thursday if Mr Khodorkovsky could become president, Mr Putin quipped: “Of which country?” But he said the ex-oligarch had the right to take part in Russian politics.

The ex-Yukos boss, today worth just over $100m, relaunched his Open Russia philanthropic foundation three months ago to promote civil society and provide organisational support for election candidates espousing European values.

He revealed he had held discussions before his arrest with members of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party about turning Russia into a parliamentary democracy if Mr Putin stood down as president after two terms in 2008. The idea of him becoming prime minister then was discussed, he added.

Mr Khodorkovsky said that might have been among the “complex of reasons” for his arrest in 2003.

“Of course, [Putin] was afraid. He feared I might organise a revolution. You know, I didn’t have that kind of idea then. But I do now.” Although he favoured a change of power, neither he nor his supporters wanted an actual revolution — which would be dangerous in Russia.

Asked about claims from Mr Putin’s supporters that only a strongman leader could hold Russia together, Mr Khodorkovsky insisted there were other ways to run the country.

“Do you really think that Russia has only 20 years left? Putin is 62. Or should we build something more stable than one 62-year-old man? And what’s more stable? Institutions.”

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