What’s Putin’s Longtime Nemesis Up To in Kiev?

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March 11 2014 3:49 PM

Khodorkovsky in Kiev

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky, center, recently freed from Russian prison, walks in Kiev's Independence Square after addressing an anti-war rally on March 9, 2014.

Photo by Yury Kirnichny/AFP/Getty Images

After he was released in December after more than a decade, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Yukos Oil tycoon who was once Russia’s richest man, suggested that he would stay out of Russian politics. Though jailed on embezzlement and tax evasion charges, it was widely assumed that the real reason for Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment had been his funding of groups opposed to President Vladimir Putin.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

But Khodorkovsky’s hiatus from Russian politics doesn’t seem to have lasted very long. The ex-tycoon was in Kiev yesterday, addressing a crowd of thousands of people, backing Ukraine’s new leaders, and accusing Russia of complicity in violence against anti-Yanukovych protesters.

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“Legal states exist only where and when there is a separation of powers, an independent judiciary and real changes in power as a result of elections,” Khodorkovsky told students at a Kiev university. “It’s completely clear that there’s nothing of the sort in Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych or in Russia under Vladimir Putin.”

He also told the crowd not to assume that all Russians support the incursion into Crimea.

Khodorkovsky has offered to mediate a solution to the crisis in Crimea, though given his standing in Russia, it seems pretty unlikely that he will be taken up on the offer.

Since his pre-Olympic pardon and departure from Russia, Khodorkovsky has been living in Switzerland and recently applied for residence in the country. He has stated a desire to return to Russia once his legal status is clarified, but speeches like this one might make that less likely.

Politically speaking, it may be better for Vladimir Putin to have his longtime nemesis join the ranks of the country’s exiled dissidents rather than sit in jail as the country’s best-known political prisoner

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