“I’d say I don’t know for whom this is a problem.”

December 19, 2016

Mikhail Khodorkovsky talks with CNN about Rex Tillerson, Vladimir Putin and Igor Sechin.


CNN: You had some personal meetings with Rex Tillerson, the nominee for the Secretary of State, when you were head of Yukos and he was working at Exxon. How do you characterise him as a man from those meetings?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “Mr Tillerson made the impression of a very strong manager. I doubt that any other person would’ve been able to get to that position in such a company like Exxon Mobil. I think that it won’t be a problem for him to build up or bring efficiency to the huge organisation that the American State Department is. This is a usual job for him. Another issue is, of course, harder.

“I know from my own experience that business and politics, especially international politics, are absolutely two different things. In business, you understand very clearly what you need and how you could achieve it, because there are rules. Because there are organisations, which watch that those rules have been followed. Because it’s rare when there is more than one counterpart [either] against you or in negotiations with you.

“But when you actually go into international politics, everything changes completely. There are no rules, common rules at least. And there’s no enforcement mechanism that could enforce those rules. And you have to think linearly all the time. It’s rare for anyone to build a consistent strategy that includes all factors in this situation because it’s simply impossible.

“So here one has to be guided by values. In the world of international politics, values are actually the only beacon light. That is generally not natural in business because in business you can calculate [an estimate/project/plan/etc.]. Would the new Secretary of State be able to switch from a calculative mode to a values-based calculation mode is the question that he needs to determine for himself.

“Undoubtedly he has a relationship with, and very acute understanding of Putin’s closest circle. I mean Mr Sechin, because he’s worked with him for a long time.”

CNN: That’s not a problem, his close relationship to one of the most powerful man in the Kremlin, Igor Sechin?

“I’d say I don’t know for whom this is a problem. The fact that he knows them too well could be a problem for America [and] it could be a problem for Sechin and Putin. And the issue here depends on values. If Mr Tillerson in his new job will hold up the beacon light of values, in that case I think that Mr Sechin, whom he knows well, wouldn’t have it easy. Because Mr Sechin’s values are not just different, they are hostile towards the common values in America. I don’t think that Mr Tillerson’s values are different. The question is whether he would be able to move away from a deal-based approach and move towards a values-based approach, because if not, Putin has a full house of cards for a deal-based approach.

“That’s because the leadership of a democratic country cannot afford such freedom of manoeuvre that a dictatorship can. He [Tillerson] will definitely lose with the deal-based approach. With the values-based approach, I think that Putin and Sechin are in a disadvantageous position. But the question is if a person [Tillerson] is capable of turning things around in his head? I hope very much that he is capable. But then of course, the newly elected president and American parliament [the Senate] can see it better [than I do].”

An edited transcript of the complete interview is now available.



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