Russian opposition figures differ on Khodorkovskiy’s political prospects

Mikhail Khodorkovsky file photo

(Interfax – December 22, 2013) Russian opposition politicians and human rights figures have expressed different views on the political future of former head of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, who was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin and released from prison on 20 December.

Eduard Limonov, radical opposition figure and leader of the unregistered Other Russia party, thinks that Khodorkovskiy killed his political future by agreeing to leave Russia, privately-owned Russian news agency Interfax reported on 22 December.

“From the very beginning, I thought that he would not return to Russia. He has flown to Berlin, I suppose this was the main condition of his release… I do not blame Khodorkovskiy, but this is a capitulation. Just by deciding to fly to Berlin, he destroyed the authority that has been earned over 10 years. Actually, this is an escape… If Khodorkovskiy returns to Russia after all, probably nobody will be interested in him. He has made ??his choice in favor of his personal life, he has agreed not to participate in politics and business,” Limonov told Interfax.

Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the RPR-Parnas opposition party, disagreed with Limonov.

“All this is temporary, of course, he will return, I have no doubts about that… Typically, such stories have triumphant endings. If you look at the history of Russia, [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn, [Soviet-era dissident Vladimir] Bukovskiy got the opportunity to return,” Nemtsov told Interfax. Even if Khodorkovskiy stays abroad, “I do not think it matters in the age of Internet” because “Mikhail Borisovich [Khodorkovskiy] has long become a factor of public life, he will be able to engage in public activities while abroad,” he noted.

However, Nemtsov said he disagreed with the opinion of the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, that Khodorkovskiy could become the “spiritual leader” of the opposition. “The notion of a spiritual leader is something akin to Iran. I do not like the phrase. But I think his moral authority is very high. He will be very influential and his opinion will count,” Nemtsov said.

Later the same day, Gazprom-owned, editorially independent Russian news agency Ekho Moskvy quoted Nemtsov as agreeing with Khodorkovskiy’s decision not to finance the Russian opposition. “I think it is right that Khodorkovskiy will not sponsor the opposition, and, for all these years, we never expected that he would: His business has been robbed, they took away his company. I have never thought to ask him for support, especially financial support,” Nemtsov said.

For her part, Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Interfax she was sorry that Khodorkovskiy could not return to Russia because he still faced a lawsuit for the recovery of R17bn.

“The fact that he cannot return to Russia, that he is in exile is very unexpected and very sad news for me… I was hoping that he would return. He will not be lost in exile, but our country needs him, and he wants to work for our country. The fact that he cannot return is a punishment added to the prison term… I am not the one to judge whether what he is doing is right or wrong. While in prison, he also said that he would not engage in politics or business. Khodorkovskiy remains true to himself,” Alekseyeva said. She was also quoted as saying that Khodorkovskiy could become the spiritual leader for civil society.

The head of the For Human Rights movement, Lev Ponomarev, told Interfax that Khodorkovskiy’s decision not to return to Russia could be either forced or voluntary. “It is hard to imagine what a person feels after spending 10 years in prison,” he noted.

“But he is very much needed in Russia. This man enjoys huge authority. Among thinking people, Khodorkovskiy has an excellent reputation, and he could unite completely different strata of society,” Ponomarev said, adding that Khodorkovskiy “could become a perfect mediator between the authorities and society towards democratization.”

Meanwhile, outspoken opposition journalist Arkadiy Babchenko ironically described Mikhail Khodorkovskiy as a new “messiah” long awaited by the opposition. Writing in his blog on the website of the Snob magazine, Babchenko said: “I feel sorry for [protest leader Aleksey] Navalnyy. Now that he is no longer needed, he will be put back in the box. A new messiah has appeared.”