From The Archives. Khodorkovsky in 2003: “Even in Prison We Will Remain Strong”

July 30, 2013

Who could have thought 10 years ago that Mikhail Khodorkovsky would become the most famous Karelian jailbird? The Yukos case was just starting up then. The prosecutor’s office and the FSB had formed a special group for the “Khodorkovsky case”. Khodorkovsky had gathered together regional journalists, announced that he was going to fight, and was not prepared to make any political concessions to the authorities. The Yukos head was convinced that if things ever got to the point of a trial, he would be acquitted. He also believed that Russia needed its oligarchs for economic growth and for Russians to be happy. 

Below is the English translation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s interview conducted 10 years ago by Natalia Zakharchuk, ‘Karelskaya Gubernia’ newspaper (30.07.2003):

You’ve got to hand it to Khodorkovsky. Mikhail Borisovich, who has lost so much in the course of the past few weeks, is holding up commendably – in a light checkered shirt, as always without a necktie, immaculately groomed and unflappable.  He stands there, before members of the “Club of Regional Journalists”.  Gathered in the audience were “his people” — journalists who had participated in many a seminar organized by the Open Russia foundation with the financial support of YUKOS.  Raised as they are in the spirit of liberalism, the conversation is more forthright with them as well.

Of course, Khodorkovsky has changed.  He’s become more somber and resolute.  He barely smiles at all, and – something that is not like him at all – he peppers his speech with emotional phrases, such as “vampires sucking on fresh blood” or “a herd of sheep,” to mention just a few.

The first half of the meeting is on the record, with recording devices and cameras.  The second is  not for publication and understandably the most interesting part.   Mikhail Borisovich names names – not only those carrying out the attack on Yukos, but also those of the people who had given the actual orders, and the objectives he believed his political adversaries were pursuing.  Actually, even during the recorded part of the meeting, it is clear that Khodorkovsky has no intention of giving in, or of changing his political leanings for the sake of compromise with the authorities.

“I knew about everything in advance…”

Mikhail Borisovich, is it true that you knew about the formation of an inter-agency group for the ‘Khodorkovsky case’ as far back as the spring?

I was aware that the prosecutor’s office and the FSB were forming a special group for me personally.  This meant there were many decisions that needed to be taken.  I warned my colleagues that it was imperative for them to decide for themselves:  either they leave the country, or they should be prepared for what might turn out to be a very tough battle indeed, and that even prison would not be out of the question.  My colleagues took the responsible decision for  themselves:  we have no right to hide — we are going to fight.

What do you think about the fact that the very same group of siloviki that once conducted the Gusinsky and Berezovsky cases are now working on yours?  What unites these trials?

All this tells us is that there are not all that many people in our country who will agree to take on such an “assignment”.  I know that the two prosecutors who were offered the opportunity to conduct the Yukos case refused, because they deemed it to be an ‘order’.  Some of the FSB people refused for the same reason.  I know that, most likely, these people are going to pay with their careers for their refusal, but the very fact that people like these exist is cause for optimism.

Let us imagine that independent international experts and an independent international court takes on the Yukos case.  Would you be confident that it would result in an acquittal?

Absolutely.  I am happy for any one of the criminal cases initiated against Yukos to be heard in an international court.  From the legal point of view, I am one hundred per cent confident:  nothing against the law was committed by either me or my colleagues in these cases.  Why am I so confident about this?  Because, starting in 1999, we cleaned up all transactions that might have had any cause to raise any doubt.  In some cases we paid people money, in others we returned shares to them, while in other cases we settled disputes or returned debts.  All in all, over the last three years – before coming out and saying that Yukos is an open, transparent company – we did a lot of work to clean everything up.  This does not mean that absolutely nothing can be found against Yukos.  You probably could find something.  But not anything at the level of misconduct that is being alleged now.

“The prosecutor’s office is lying to the president…”

Do you believe that the attack by the General Prosecutor’s Office on Yukos is being conducted without President Putin’s knowledge?

I am absolutely sure that Putin has nothing to do with it.  Not only that, I believe that the prosecutor’s office is lying to the President with respect to the Yukos cases.  I am likewise sure that, at the end of the day, the final decision is going to have to be taken by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.  The President faces a choice today; either to retain a regime that includes oligarchs, communists, Zhirinovsky, and an embryonic civil society (even though it’s neither very effective nor perfect), or farm out everything to the special services.  In the latter instance, a military regime would then be established in Russia under which the people in power would no longer care about the victims.  We can talk a lot about how bad oligarchs are, but excuse me, it’s not as if the oligarchs are tainted with the blood of mass intentional murder.  The hands of the state and of the special services are tainted – let us not forget the purges.

Have you tried negotiating with the president?

I wouldn’t want to comment on this question.  But you know yourself that other highly placed people did go to him and express an opinion on Yukos.  As to the reasons the President does not want to get involved in the situation yet – that is a topic for another conversation.

What do you believe are the objectives that siloviki are pursuing by pressurising Yukos?

The siloviki don’t want to scare me.  They want to scare you.  Yukos is a symbolic gesture, an example that graphically demonstrates the fact that if we can manage to defeat someone strong, then what hope for someone weak?  It is physically impossible to deal with each person in the country individually.  But you can frighten them with the Yukos case, and, after that, deal with them as you would a flock of sheep.  The people who have come to power now are capable of locking anybody up in jail for no reason whatsoever.  In the Yukos case, it’s high up the ladder, the generals and  lieutenant-generals that are doing it.  But for ordinary people, who have their own little stall at the bazaar or a private apartment, it will be some sergeant who will do it.  There are many of them, after all, and they are hungry.  The sergeant takes a fancy to your apartment, and the next thing you know…  Remember your history, 1937?  Who were the first ones to fall victim?  The ones who owned apartments.  My grandfather, who worked in the ministry of machine-building, managed to avoid prison only because he didn’t have an apartment of his own.  He had nothing that could be coveted.

Perhaps this is all happening because Yukos financed the Opposition?  And if you personally had supported United Russia none of this would have happened?

Let’s start with the fact that SPS and Yabloko are not the President’s political adversaries.  When I talked to Putin on this topic, it seemed that we had reached a mutual understanding. Do you think that these are the only parties I fund?  Do you think I don’t give money to United Russia too?!  If so, you are seriously mistaken.  Do you think I didn’t give money to Strelna?  I did give them money too.

After they came after you, the Prosecutor’s office paid a visit to Deripaska.  Was this a declaration of war against the oligarchs, reflecting the Government’s desire to reconsider the results of privatization?

Nobody is going to be pressured on their own. For some reason popular opinion believes that in Russia we have some kind of system – a vertical of power – that carefully thinks through cause and effect.  No, there is just a herd who are trying to demoralize the population.

“Don’t defend us, defend yourselves”

Much is said today about how, in a difficult moment, big business did not display a sense of solidarity.  Did the reaction of the Russian business elite to the Yukos situation disappoint you?

I understand perfectly well that people are afraid, and I’m not asking anything of them. When I spoke at a session of the RSPP, I advised:  there is no need to request the General Prosecutor Office to come to their senses. There is neither humanity nor justice in the Prosecutor’s Office, so it’s not worth appealing, only groveling.

But the fact that the letter handed to Putin had been co-ordinated by the business elite, including the top management of Gazprom, (for whom it was certainly not a simple matter to sign such a  document) – that says a lot already.  There is only one person in our ranks today who is playing into the hands of the Prosecutor’s office, and that is Sergey Bogdanchikov, head of Rosneft (which is playing a supporting role in all of this).

So there you have it — serious evidence of the maturity of big business and their understanding that it’s not me they’re defending (they might not even have defended just me alone), but themselves.  They understand that competition is already something secondary.  The primary thing is that vampires don’t stop once they’ve had a taste of fresh blood.”

Do you understand that no matter how hard you might want it, you won’t be able to rely on the support of broad public opinion?  The majority of people in Russia will say:  “They got what they deserved, it’s about time the oligarchs got dispossessed…

Then I’ll say just one thing:  don’t defend us, defend yourselves, because compared to the whole country we’re better defended.  Nobody feels pity for oligarchs.  And indeed, what is there to pity us for?!  We’re strong people.  Even in prison we remain strong.  Of course we need the public’s support.  I’ve had a lot of discussions in recent times with governors, officials, and politicians.  Some are more afraid, some less, but they all have the same general refrain:  hang in there guys, we understand that if you break, we’re all done for!  Our responsibility is not about standing up for ourselves.  It is our example that all government servants will watch carefully, and upon which they will decide whether to remain in their barracks or pursue their tactics more aggressively.  Prosecutors are already active in all of our regional representative offices.  If we break, then these local agencies, even without the go-ahead from Moscow, will interpret this as a command to act.

Has the attack on Yukos seriously hurt Russia’s reputation worldwide?

The consequences will be felt in the very near future.  We – and you – have been building a normal country for the last 15 years.  And recently the impression was created that we had succeeded in becoming a normal country.  Throughout 2003, there was a view that the rest of the world was stagnating but Russia was developing.  Serious money started coming to Russia – a billion a month.  Such a thing had never happened before.  We were inches away from getting an investment-grade rating in 2004, after the presidential elections.  What does that mean?  It means that instead of 5-10 billion dollars worth of foreign investment a year, it’s 30-50 billion dollars of foreign investments, that’s what it is!  And now it’s gone!  Forget about it!  Now, in 2006, at best!  We’ve already thrown 50-60 billion dollars down the drain, and that’s if no additional cataclysm occurs.  But what if the price of oil drops?  And what if the world experiences an economic upturn and people see an opportunity to put their money in America and Europe?  That’s all it takes — we’ve missed our chance for another 5-10 years.  And for what?

Are you worried for the life and health of your closest colleagues?

Platon Lebedev is not the healthiest person; it’s very hard now for him and his family.  His child is one month old; Platon has spent the time of his wife’s pregnancy in jail.  Now concern about Pichugin has been added to all this.  What is going on does not give cause to hope that he’ll be able to maintain his health, and perhaps even his life.

“Yukos will hold on!”

Are you satisfied with the reaction of the political parties to what is happening at Yukos?

The positions that the political parties are taking today are remarkably courageous for them.  Indeed, for Russian society they are remarkably courageous – we can still remember that millions lost their lives in the years of the purges.  I believe that for people who had family members who were victims of  the purges and who were killed by the special services, for them to come out in support of us is a step of great civic courage.

How do you assess your current political influence?

Three months ago when we were discussing the political power of Khodorkovsky, I said – we’ve  got one god, one tsar — and that is the state; we all lay our lives and our children’s lives on the altar of this god and are glad when he devours them.  And I turned out to be right.  I have never said that big business needs to be outside of politics.  And just like any citizen of the country, any big business has the right – and in my opinion the duty – to be a part of political life.  Otherwise it will be prosecutors who determine our lives.  The term “oligarch” is a fairytale for Russia.  An oligarch is a person who has merged political power and financial opportunities into a single whole, and on the basis of this has locked in his ability to run the entire country together with others like him.  I’ve got to say that if this were so, we would all be a happy country.  Don’t feel hopeful — we don’t live in such a country of oligarchs yet.

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From The Archives Khodorkovsky in 2003: “Even in Prison We Will Remain Strong”

July 30, 2013

Who could have thought 10 years ago that Mikhail Khodorkovsky would become the most famous Karelian jailbird? The Yukos case was just starting up then. The prosecutor’s office and the FSB had formed a special group for the “Khodorkovsky case”. Khodorkovsky had gathered together regional journalists, announced that he was going to fight, and was not prepared to make any political concessions to the authorities. The Yukos head was convinced that if things ever got to the point of a trial, he would be acquitted. He also believed that Russia needed its oligarchs for economic growth and for Russians to be happy.

Below is the English translation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s interview conducted 10 years ago by Natalia Zakharchuk, ‘Karelskaya Gubernia’ newspaper (30.07.2003):

You’ve got to hand it to Khodorkovsky. Mikhail Borisovich, who has lost so much in the course of the past few weeks, is holding up commendably – in a light checkered shirt, as always without a necktie, immaculately groomed and unflappable. He stands there, before members of the “Club of Regional Journalists”. Gathered in the audience were “his people” — journalists who had participated in many a seminar organized by the Open Russia foundation with the financial support of YUKOS. Raised as they are in the spirit of liberalism, the conversation is more forthright with them as well.

Of course, Khodorkovsky has changed. He’s become more somber and resolute. He barely smiles at all, and – something that is not like him at all – he peppers his speech with emotional phrases, such as “vampires sucking on fresh blood” or “a herd of sheep,” to mention just a few.

The first half of the meeting is on the record, with recording devices and cameras. The second is not for publication and understandably the most interesting part. Mikhail Borisovich names names – not only those carrying out the attack on Yukos, but also those of the people who had given the actual orders, and the objectives he believed his political adversaries were pursuing. Actually, even during the recorded part of the meeting, it is clear that Khodorkovsky has no intention of giving in, or of changing his political leanings for the sake of compromise with the authorities.

“I knew about everything in advance…”

Mikhail Borisovich, is it true that you knew about the formation of an inter-agency group for the ‘Khodorkovsky case’ as far back as the spring?

I was aware that the prosecutor’s office and the FSB were forming a special group for me personally. This meant there were many decisions that needed to be taken. I warned my colleagues that it was imperative for them to decide for themselves: either they leave the country, or they should be prepared for what might turn out to be a very tough battle indeed, and that even prison would not be out of the question. My colleagues took the responsible decision for themselves: we have no right to hide — we are going to fight.

What do you think about the fact that the very same group of siloviki that once conducted the Gusinsky and Berezovsky cases are now working on yours? What unites these trials?

All this tells us is that there are not all that many people in our country who will agree to take on such an “assignment”. I know that the two prosecutors who were offered the opportunity to conduct the Yukos case refused, because they deemed it to be an ‘order’. Some of the FSB people refused for the same reason. I know that, most likely, these people are going to pay with their careers for their refusal, but the very fact that people like these exist is cause for optimism.

Let us imagine that independent international experts and an independent international court takes on the Yukos case. Would you be confident that it would result in an acquittal?

Absolutely. I am happy for any one of the criminal cases initiated against Yukos to be heard in an international court. From the legal point of view, I am one hundred per cent confident: nothing against the law was committed by either me or my colleagues in these cases. Why am I so confident about this? Because, starting in 1999, we cleaned up all transactions that might have had any cause to raise any doubt. In some cases we paid people money, in others we returned shares to them, while in other cases we settled disputes or returned debts. All in all, over the last three years – before coming out and saying that Yukos is an open, transparent company – we did a lot of work to clean everything up. This does not mean that absolutely nothing can be found against Yukos. You probably could find something. But not anything at the level of misconduct that is being alleged now.

“The prosecutor’s office is lying to the president…”

Do you believe that the attack by the General Prosecutor’s Office on Yukos is being conducted without President Putin’s knowledge?

I am absolutely sure that Putin has nothing to do with it. Not only that, I believe that the prosecutor’s office is lying to the President with respect to the Yukos cases. I am likewise sure that, at the end of the day, the final decision is going to have to be taken by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The President faces a choice today; either to retain a regime that includes oligarchs, communists, Zhirinovsky, and an embryonic civil society (even though it’s neither very effective nor perfect), or farm out everything to the special services. In the latter instance, a military regime would then be established in Russia under which the people in power would no longer care about the victims. We can talk a lot about how bad oligarchs are, but excuse me, it’s not as if the oligarchs are tainted with the blood of mass intentional murder. The hands of the state and of the special services are tainted – let us not forget the purges.

Have you tried negotiating with the president?

I wouldn’t want to comment on this question. But you know yourself that other highly placed people did go to him and express an opinion on Yukos. As to the reasons the President does not want to get involved in the situation yet – that is a topic for another conversation.

What do you believe are the objectives that siloviki are pursuing by pressurising Yukos?

The siloviki don’t want to scare me. They want to scare you. Yukos is a symbolic gesture, an example that graphically demonstrates the fact that if we can manage to defeat someone strong, then what hope for someone weak? It is physically impossible to deal with each person in the country individually. But you can frighten them with the Yukos case, and, after that, deal with them as you would a flock of sheep. The people who have come to power now are capable of locking anybody up in jail for no reason whatsoever. In the Yukos case, it’s high up the ladder, the generals and lieutenant-generals that are doing it. But for ordinary people, who have their own little stall at the bazaar or a private apartment, it will be some sergeant who will do it. There are many of them, after all, and they are hungry. The sergeant takes a fancy to your apartment, and the next thing you know… Remember your history, 1937? Who were the first ones to fall victim? The ones who owned apartments. My grandfather, who worked in the ministry of machine-building, managed to avoid prison only because he didn’t have an apartment of his own. He had nothing that could be coveted.

Perhaps this is all happening because Yukos financed the Opposition? And if you personally had supported United Russia none of this would have happened?

Let’s start with the fact that SPS and Yabloko are not the President’s political adversaries. When I talked to Putin on this topic, it seemed that we had reached a mutual understanding. Do you think that these are the only parties I fund? Do you think I don’t give money to United Russia too?! If so, you are seriously mistaken. Do you think I didn’t give money to Strelna? I did give them money too.

After they came after you, the Prosecutor’s office paid a visit to Deripaska. Was this a declaration of war against the oligarchs, reflecting the Government’s desire to reconsider the results of privatization?

Nobody is going to be pressured on their own. For some reason popular opinion believes that in Russia we have some kind of system – a vertical of power – that carefully thinks through cause and effect. No, there is just a herd who are trying to demoralize the population.

“Don’t defend us, defend yourselves”

Much is said today about how, in a difficult moment, big business did not display a sense of solidarity. Did the reaction of the Russian business elite to the Yukos situation disappoint you?

I understand perfectly well that people are afraid, and I’m not asking anything of them. When I spoke at a session of the RSPP, I advised: there is no need to request the General Prosecutor Office to come to their senses. There is neither humanity nor justice in the Prosecutor’s Office, so it’s not worth appealing, only groveling.

But the fact that the letter handed to Putin had been co-ordinated by the business elite, including the top management of Gazprom, (for whom it was certainly not a simple matter to sign such a document) – that says a lot already. There is only one person in our ranks today who is playing into the hands of the Prosecutor’s office, and that is Sergey Bogdanchikov, head of Rosneft (which is playing a supporting role in all of this).

So there you have it — serious evidence of the maturity of big business and their understanding that it’s not me they’re defending (they might not even have defended just me alone), but themselves. They understand that competition is already something secondary. The primary thing is that vampires don’t stop once they’ve had a taste of fresh blood.”

Do you understand that no matter how hard you might want it, you won’t be able to rely on the support of broad public opinion? The majority of people in Russia will say: “They got what they deserved, it’s about time the oligarchs got dispossessed…

Then I’ll say just one thing: don’t defend us, defend yourselves, because compared to the whole country we’re better defended. Nobody feels pity for oligarchs. And indeed, what is there to pity us for?! We’re strong people. Even in prison we remain strong. Of course we need the public’s support. I’ve had a lot of discussions in recent times with governors, officials, and politicians. Some are more afraid, some less, but they all have the same general refrain: hang in there guys, we understand that if you break, we’re all done for! Our responsibility is not about standing up for ourselves. It is our example that all government servants will watch carefully, and upon which they will decide whether to remain in their barracks or pursue their tactics more aggressively. Prosecutors are already active in all of our regional representative offices. If we break, then these local agencies, even without the go-ahead from Moscow, will interpret this as a command to act.

Has the attack on Yukos seriously hurt Russia’s reputation worldwide?

The consequences will be felt in the very near future. We – and you – have been building a normal country for the last 15 years. And recently the impression was created that we had succeeded in becoming a normal country. Throughout 2003, there was a view that the rest of the world was stagnating but Russia was developing. Serious money started coming to Russia – a billion a month. Such a thing had never happened before. We were inches away from getting an investment-grade rating in 2004, after the presidential elections. What does that mean? It means that instead of 5-10 billion dollars worth of foreign investment a year, it’s 30-50 billion dollars of foreign investments, that’s what it is! And now it’s gone! Forget about it! Now, in 2006, at best! We’ve already thrown 50-60 billion dollars down the drain, and that’s if no additional cataclysm occurs. But what if the price of oil drops? And what if the world experiences an economic upturn and people see an opportunity to put their money in America and Europe? That’s all it takes — we’ve missed our chance for another 5-10 years. And for what?

Are you worried for the life and health of your closest colleagues?

Platon Lebedev is not the healthiest person; it’s very hard now for him and his family. His child is one month old; Platon has spent the time of his wife’s pregnancy in jail. Now concern about Pichugin has been added to all this. What is going on does not give cause to hope that he’ll be able to maintain his health, and perhaps even his life.

“Yukos will hold on!”

Are you satisfied with the reaction of the political parties to what is happening at Yukos?

The positions that the political parties are taking today are remarkably courageous for them. Indeed, for Russian society they are remarkably courageous – we can still remember that millions lost their lives in the years of the purges. I believe that for people who had family members who were victims of the purges and who were killed by the special services, for them to come out in support of us is a step of great civic courage.

How do you assess your current political influence?

Three months ago when we were discussing the political power of Khodorkovsky, I said – we’ve got one god, one tsar — and that is the state; we all lay our lives and our children’s lives on the altar of this god and are glad when he devours them. And I turned out to be right. I have never said that big business needs to be outside of politics. And just like any citizen of the country, any big business has the right – and in my opinion the duty – to be a part of political life. Otherwise it will be prosecutors who determine our lives. The term “oligarch” is a fairytale for Russia. An oligarch is a person who has merged political power and financial opportunities into a single whole, and on the basis of this has locked in his ability to run the entire country together with others like him. I’ve got to say that if this were so, we would all be a happy country. Don’t feel hopeful — we don’t live in such a country of oligarchs yet.

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