Exiled Russian to campaign for political prisoners



BERLIN — Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Russian oil tycoon released after 10 years in jail, vowed to campaign for political prisoners as he celebrated his third day of freedom following a pardon by President Vladimir Putin.

He ruled out a role in politics or funding groups challenging the Russian leader, whose clemency he described as an attempt to bolster the country’s image internationally two months before it hosts the Sochi Winter Olympics in February.

“The question of politics for me doesn’t exist,” the businessman-turned-dissident said at a news conference in Berlin on Sunday. “I’m not interested in a fight for power.” He has “comrades still in prison,” including his former business partner, Platon Lebedev, and it would be “dangerous” for opposition parties to accept financing from him now, he said.

Khodorkovsky, 50, once Russia’s richest man, flew to the German capital two days ago with the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who arranged for him to fly on a private jet to Berlin’s Schoenefeld airport. He was reunited with his parents and eldest son Pavel in emotional scenes on Saturday and awaits the arrival of his wife Inna and their three children, according to his official website.

In his first major public appearance since his release on Friday, Khodorkovsky said he doesn’t know his financial situation but has enough to live on.

Putin’s decision is “a symbol of the fact that the Russian authorities, including Putin, are concerned about the image of Russia as a democratic state,” he told hundreds of reporters amid tumultuous scenes at a museum near Checkpoint Charlie, the iconic former border-crossing that became a symbol of the division of Cold War Berlin.

The museum, which has a section devoted to Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment, marks the point where diplomats, journalists and non-Germans were permitted to enter Soviet-controlled East Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie was also the scene of a face-off between U.S. and Soviet tanks in 1961, the year in which the Berlin Wall was erected.

Khodorkovsky said he won’t seek to recover assets lost after he was arrested for fraud and tax evasion at a Siberian airstrip in 2003. It’s not safe for him to return to Russia because of the risk he won’t be permitted to leave again, he said.