We knew that the Khodorkovsky pardon was initiated by the Kremlin but at the time couldn’t prove it. His attorneys were as surprised as ourselves and Khodorkovsky himself had made no mention of seeking a pardon.
The two parties, Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, were at a stalemate. Putin wasn’t going to pardon without an admission of guilt and promise to stay out of politics and Khodorkovsky wasn’t going to admit guilt to crimes he clearly didn’t commit.
Checkmated, President Putin issued presidential decree number 922 ordering the release of Khodorkovsky from penal colony number 7 in the small town of Segezha in Russia’s Karelia region. Khodorkovsky was quietly removed from the prison before reporters could arrive and Putin’s claim the day before that the former Oligarch had admitted guilt turned out to be hollow..
However the journalists at Kommersant were busy at work and yesterday it was revealed that the Kremlin sent security agents to visit Khodorkovsky to negotiate a release based on behind the scenes negotiations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who over the years has served as both a critic but yet a friend of Mr. Putin. President Putin, facing another possible epic failure of the Olympics (does anyone remember 1980?), needs to revise his image–and fast.
Mr. Putin got half of what the wanted: a promise not to run for office or support the opposition. As for Khodorkovsky, he got half of what he wanted which was personal release without admitting guilt and permission to leave the country, however the Putin pardon does not include Khodorkovsky’s long time friend and business partner, Platon Lebedev. Lebedev’s sentence expires in May of 2014 and barring any new criminal charges he will be released at that time.
Khodorkovsky left Russia a day after his release, traveling to Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport on a private jet owned by former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. It was Genscher who met him at the airport in Berlin with a waiting police escort to be reunited with his parents and eldest son Pavel. His mother Marina, age 79, also flew to Germany for specialized cancer treatment.
At a news conference in Berlin on Sunday Khodorkovsky went out of his way to steer clear of politics and indicated that he had no intention of running for President of Russia in the future. He did however promise to work on behalf of other political prisoners who remain behind bars.
Khodorkovsky told reporters that a boycott of the Olympics was counter productive and would hurt millions of people, not just the Russian government. As to whether he would return to Russia, Khodorkovsky said that he was free to return but not certain that he’d be allowed to leave again. His German visa is for one year.