Mikhail Khodorkovsky is met by Hans-Dietrich Genscher at Berlin's Schonefeld airport

Both the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin consistently commented on the case against Khodorkovsky; and these comments gave no indication that his release was anything other than a distant prospect. When it came, Khodorkovsky’s release was unexpected.

On 19 December 2013, at the very end of a press conference held in the Kremlin by President Putin, the president, in what appeared to be an off-hand remark to a reporter, mentioned that Khodorkovsky had written a letter appealing for a pardon, citing humanitarian factors. Putin said that he was minded to grant the request.

One day later, on 20th December 2013, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released by presidential pardon. In total, he had served 3,709 days in prison (a little over 10 years), and had gone through two separate show trials.

Khodorkovsky flew directly to Berlin after the release, where he was greeted by the former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dieter Genscher, who had assisted in negotiating the pardon. A few days later, he gave a press conference at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin, which was attended by more than a hundred international media.

Khodorkovsky issued a brief statement upon his release.

“The issue of admission of guilt was not raised. I would like to thank everyone who has been following the Yukos case all these years for the support you provided to me, my family and all those who were unjustly convicted and continue to be persecuted. I am very much looking forward to the minute when I will be able to hug my close ones and personally shake hands with all my friends and associates. I am constantly thinking of those who continue to remain imprisoned.”

“You should not regard me as a symbol that there aren’t any political prisoners left in Russia any more,” Khodorkovsky said during the Berlin press conference. “I ask you to regard me as a symbol that when civil society wants to accomplish something, its efforts are capable of bringing about the release of even those people that nobody ever imagined could be released. We just need to continue to work towards the goal of ensuring that no political prisoners remain in Russia, and indeed in other country in the world either. At any rate, I fully intend to do everything I can towards achieving this goal.”

Khodorkovsky’s release was warmly welcomed by numerous international observers, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, among others.