Bloomberg: Putin’s Russia Is Like Cart on Superhighway, Khodorkovsky Says

October 22, 2009

This interview with Mikhail Khodorkovsky was originally published by Bloomberg.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed former owner of OAO Yukos Oil Co. and once Russia’s richest man, said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s handling of the Russian economy can be compared with a horse-cart on a superhighway.

“We’re passengers in this cart, and the manure from under the horse’s tail is the unavoidable option,” Khodorkovsky, 46, said in written answers to more than 100 readers’ questions published by online newspaper yesterday.

Khodorkovsky, who has been serving an eight-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony for tax evasion and fraud, is back in Moscow for a second trial that could add 22 1/2 years to his term. Prosecutors claim he and his former business partner Platon Lebedev embezzled oil worth more than 892.4 billion rubles ($31 billion) from Yukos units.

The former oilman, who maintains his innocence, said he wouldn’t ask the authorities for a pardon and left open his future, saying only that he didn’t plan to go into politics or return to business. Khodorkovsky has called the case against him retribution for his political opposition to Putin, who was president at the time of his arrest six years ago.

“I’m convinced that an authoritarian political regime in 21st century Russia will be short-lived,” Khodorkovsky wrote in response to one question. “Putin doesn’t want to damage the country. He’s implementing the model that he understands, and believes it’s the best. Alas, his ideas are mistaken.”

‘Resource Province’

Russia’s optimistic scenario is that it will become democratic by 2015 and follow the “Norwegian-Canadian model” of economic development, Khodorkovsky wrote. A more pessimistic scenario is Russia becoming a “resource province” for China and Europe.

Khodorkovsky said he’s convinced he’ll eventually be freed from prison and plans to remain in Russia, where he has a wife and four children.

The “fundamental” price of oil should be between $50 and $70 per barrel, not counting speculation, Khodorkovsky said.

Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil company, was bankrupted after Khodorkovsky’s arrest and dismantled under a $30 billion back-tax debt. State-run oil company OAO Rosneft bought up the assets at auctions, becoming Russia’s biggest crude producer.

President Dmitry Medvedev, Putin’s successor, published a manifesto in last month, urging his fellow citizens to join him in fighting corruption, economic dependence on natural resources and the lack of rule of law in Russia.