Khodorkovsky: “There Will Be a Crisis after Putin”

July 19, 2013

German news website n-tv online has published a new interview with Mikhail Khodorkovksy in which he speaks about recent protests and the struggle of civil society in today’s Russia.

Below is an English translation of the interview transcript. The German interview can be found on the n-tv website here.

n-tv.de: No later than July 2003, when your business partner Platon Lebedev was arrested, it was clear that you, too, were facing a prison sentence. You had a lot of money and had the opportunity to emigrate. Why didn’t you?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: If I had left, it would’ve amounted to a betrayal. Did it make sense then for the government to continue detaining my employees if I remained? The severe manner in which they were treated was surprising and resembled the taking of hostages.

To your mind, what was the real reason for your arrest?

The original reason is the financing of the opposition, the fear of political competition. The desire to cash in on the collapse of the company came later.

Do you sometimes regret that you didn’t leave Russia?

There is no way of telling if more or fewer Yukos employees would be sitting in prison now if I had left. I don’t regret anything, even though it’s difficult to endure as a person. Very difficult.

You’ve been sitting behind bars for nearly 10 years now, and today you’re more significant politically than ever before. A Russian newspaper recently declared you “Prisoner No. 1”. How do you feel being in that role?

I’ve become a symbolic figure, both for my friends as well as for my enemies. I didn’t choose that; it’s my fate. I’d like to be “honourably discharged,” but so far that doesn’t seem likely.

Of course, you also have critics in Russia. Along with other oligarchs, you’re accused of getting rich during the years of wild privatisation under Boris Yeltsin, and therefore you also deserve to be in jail; your criticism of Putin couldn’t be perceived as honest. How do you react to those accusations?

Privatisation was more than 15 years ago, and it wasn’t me but precisely the state power that carried it out back then. Even Putin himself, in his position as head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSS), bears responsibility for the privatisation. He was clearly more influential than I was in my position as the head of a company, even though it was a large and major company.

When I look at the result, there is nothing for which I should feel ashamed: The value of the company not only increased fivefold; we also doubled oil production, as well as petroleum stocks, and lowered production costs by more than a third.

By the way, when I criticise Putin, I’m not speaking about privatisation and also not about the expropriation of Yukos. Rather, I’m talking about the shortcomings of a government that is not being replaced. A government that is beyond criticism and independent monitoring. And in particular I think it’s about errors that we shouldn’t permit: the change from one Putin to another instead of creating regulated, democratic institutions, such as honest elections, an independent judiciary, an influential parliament and an opposition.

Should Putin himself decide to back such a reform, I’d be the last person to oppose it. I dream of a democratic Russia, not of power.

As things stand today you will have to be released at the end of October 2014. Supposing this happens, what will you do? Do you see your future in Russia?

I’ll think about that when I’m no longer behind bars. Anything else would be premature.

To what extent has Russia changed during the last ten years?

Some of the population have become significantly richer. There is a lot of building going on in the towns and cities. There are more immigrants from neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, the government has become harder, more authoritarian. There are fewer civil liberties, but people are making more active use of them.

You wanted to help create a civil society in Russia. Do you think that this struggle has been lost?

The struggle for the creation of a civil society would be lost if we didn’t believe in our country. For the time being we’re in temporary retreat.

The protest movement against Putin has become noticeably weaker. At the same time the Kremlin has increased its pressure on the opposition enormously. Does that mean that Putin is stronger now than ever before?

I don’t think any stable system can be based on fear and repression in the 21st century. Today we live in a globalised world. Nobody wishes to tolerate degradation.

What is it that can make Putin become dangerous?

Basically: lower economic growth and the conflicts that this entails; apart from this a downgrading of the rating. Or powerful elites may escape his control or leave the country. Apart from this, it can be assumed that in the next five to ten years the mutual distrust between Putin and his intimate circle will grow and that this will cause coordination problems and therefore deficiencies in the administrative organisation, leading to local crises.

What will happen after Putin?

Even today I fear that there will inevitably be a crisis after Putin. It’s essential that democratic forces manage to prepare themselves so that they can construct proper constitutional institutions and a democratic state. They must be prepared both in organisational and ideological terms.

What kind of future would you like to see for Russia?

In future I see my country as a sovereign, constitutional, democratic state that shares fundamental European values, human rights and freedom, and that is based on a strong civil society. I hope that we will remain a federation, but with strong local self-government as the mainstay of a reliable government.

I hope that the President’s despotic powers will largely be divided up between the administration, parliament and the judiciary. The President will remain the highest arbitrator, the moderator of social affairs and the guarantor of the constitution.

Above all, I hope for a proper changeover of power as the result of honest elections and thanks to a strong opposition that controls the government. For all this we need to develop a civil society with mutual trust, which is far from being sufficient at present. I want my country to have a European future. We have to stop experimenting.

What do you want for yourself personally?

I only want to return to my family.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was interviewed by Jan Gänger

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Khodorkovsky: “There Will Be a Crisis after Putin”

July 19, 2013

German news website n-tv online has published a new interview with Mikhail Khodorkovksy in which he speaks about recent protests and the struggle of civil society in today’s Russia.

Below is an English translation of the interview transcript. The German interview can be found on the n-tv website here.

n-tv.de: No later than July 2003, when your business partner Platon Lebedev was arrested, it was clear that you, too, were facing a prison sentence. You had a lot of money and had the opportunity to emigrate. Why didn’t you?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: If I had left, it would’ve amounted to a betrayal. Did it make sense then for the government to continue detaining my employees if I remained? The severe manner in which they were treated was surprising and resembled the taking of hostages.

To your mind, what was the real reason for your arrest?

The original reason is the financing of the opposition, the fear of political competition. The desire to cash in on the collapse of the company came later.

Do you sometimes regret that you didn’t leave Russia?

There is no way of telling if more or fewer Yukos employees would be sitting in prison now if I had left. I don’t regret anything, even though it’s difficult to endure as a person. Very difficult.

You’ve been sitting behind bars for nearly 10 years now, and today you’re more significant politically than ever before. A Russian newspaper recently declared you “Prisoner No. 1”. How do you feel being in that role?

I’ve become a symbolic figure, both for my friends as well as for my enemies. I didn’t choose that; it’s my fate. I’d like to be “honourably discharged,” but so far that doesn’t seem likely.

Of course, you also have critics in Russia. Along with other oligarchs, you’re accused of getting rich during the years of wild privatisation under Boris Yeltsin, and therefore you also deserve to be in jail; your criticism of Putin couldn’t be perceived as honest. How do you react to those accusations?

Privatisation was more than 15 years ago, and it wasn’t me but precisely the state power that carried it out back then. Even Putin himself, in his position as head of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSS), bears responsibility for the privatisation. He was clearly more influential than I was in my position as the head of a company, even though it was a large and major company.

When I look at the result, there is nothing for which I should feel ashamed: The value of the company not only increased fivefold; we also doubled oil production, as well as petroleum stocks, and lowered production costs by more than a third.

By the way, when I criticise Putin, I’m not speaking about privatisation and also not about the expropriation of Yukos. Rather, I’m talking about the shortcomings of a government that is not being replaced. A government that is beyond criticism and independent monitoring. And in particular I think it’s about errors that we shouldn’t permit: the change from one Putin to another instead of creating regulated, democratic institutions, such as honest elections, an independent judiciary, an influential parliament and an opposition.

Should Putin himself decide to back such a reform, I’d be the last person to oppose it. I dream of a democratic Russia, not of power.

As things stand today you will have to be released at the end of October 2014. Supposing this happens, what will you do? Do you see your future in Russia?

I’ll think about that when I’m no longer behind bars. Anything else would be premature.

To what extent has Russia changed during the last ten years?

Some of the population have become significantly richer. There is a lot of building going on in the towns and cities. There are more immigrants from neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, the government has become harder, more authoritarian. There are fewer civil liberties, but people are making more active use of them.

You wanted to help create a civil society in Russia. Do you think that this struggle has been lost?

The struggle for the creation of a civil society would be lost if we didn’t believe in our country. For the time being we’re in temporary retreat.

The protest movement against Putin has become noticeably weaker. At the same time the Kremlin has increased its pressure on the opposition enormously. Does that mean that Putin is stronger now than ever before?

I don’t think any stable system can be based on fear and repression in the 21st century. Today we live in a globalised world. Nobody wishes to tolerate degradation.

What is it that can make Putin become dangerous?

Basically: lower economic growth and the conflicts that this entails; apart from this a downgrading of the rating. Or powerful elites may escape his control or leave the country. Apart from this, it can be assumed that in the next five to ten years the mutual distrust between Putin and his intimate circle will grow and that this will cause coordination problems and therefore deficiencies in the administrative organisation, leading to local crises.

What will happen after Putin?

Even today I fear that there will inevitably be a crisis after Putin. It’s essential that democratic forces manage to prepare themselves so that they can construct proper constitutional institutions and a democratic state. They must be prepared both in organisational and ideological terms.

What kind of future would you like to see for Russia?

In future I see my country as a sovereign, constitutional, democratic state that shares fundamental European values, human rights and freedom, and that is based on a strong civil society. I hope that we will remain a federation, but with strong local self-government as the mainstay of a reliable government.

I hope that the President’s despotic powers will largely be divided up between the administration, parliament and the judiciary. The President will remain the highest arbitrator, the moderator of social affairs and the guarantor of the constitution.

Above all, I hope for a proper changeover of power as the result of honest elections and thanks to a strong opposition that controls the government. For all this we need to develop a civil society with mutual trust, which is far from being sufficient at present. I want my country to have a European future. We have to stop experimenting.

What do you want for yourself personally?

I only want to return to my family.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was interviewed by Jan Gänger

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