All of us at the Khodorkovsky team wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year!

December 22, 2023

Dear Friends,

All of us at the Khodorkovsky team wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year!

Ten years of freedom.

December 20, 2013 became a second birthday for me: I left prison, where I had spent ten years for invented crimes at Putin’s behest. I reflect on the last decade in which I have regained freedom but Putin has made the world less free, and what needs to be done about it, in a Washington Post article published today.

I clearly remember every moment of my release. The guard reporting by radio that I was on board the plane. The squeak of the closing hatch. I remember meeting Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister, by the steps in Berlin. I remember what I asked him: “Why did you fight so hard for me?” I remember his answer: “I served in the Wehrmacht, and when that all ended, I understood that I needed to save at least one Russian life. You turned out to be that Russian.”

I am very grateful to Angela Merkel, who, despite all the criticism aimed at her, will always remain in my eyes as the person who saved my life. I remain grateful also to my many friends and defenders, who throughout my years in prison continued to keep my story in the public eye.

If not for their work, I would be dead.

I asked then-president Putin to release me on humanitarian grounds – my mother was very ill. She passed away several months later in Berlin. He allowed me to spend some precious time with her. He didn’t order my death in prison. I remember good deeds, even from an opponent. But I remember bad deeds too and after his bombing of the cities of my forefathers, Putin is my enemy.

All speculation over my obligations in return for my freedom, are just that. Nothing was demanded of me, and I promised nothing.

A short time later, my friend Platon Lebedev was also freed. In contrast to me, he still has not received permission to leave the country.

Today, there are thousands of others persecuted by the regime who require all of our help, such as Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Andrei Pivovarov, Ilya Yashin, Alexei Pichugin, and so many more.

I did not plan to engage in politics after my release. But the annexation of Crimea and provocation of a conflict in eastern Ukraine changed my priorities. I understood that Russia was moving ceaselessly from the selective repression of authoritarianism to a fully-fledged totalitarian dictatorship, which threatens the existence of both my own country, and the whole world.

I decided I would do all I could to change that. I do not know whether what I have been doing for the ten years since my release can be called politics. I do not think it can. Politics, in the democratic tradition, is the battle for an elected position. That is not my aim.

I have set myself a different task. I want to convince Russian society to change the country’s trajectory. I want my country to avoid getting itself into another vicious circle of authoritarian strongman rule, by betting on a single leader, whatever that person might call themselves: Tsar, General Secretary or President.

I want to convince society that the only path to the future; the only way to save a country like Russia is a deeply federalized parliamentary republic with genuine division of power and unquestioning commitment to human rights.

That is what I have been doing since the moment I was freed. And that is what I plan to continue doing.

Russia will be free!

Mikhail Khodorkovsky