Russia’s Khodorkovsky: Putin is a ‘naked king’ facing economic ruin (Original Title)
“Putin with bare chest isn’t a mighty leader: He is a naked king,” Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man who was arrested in 2003 after falling foul of Putin only to be released in 2013, told an audience in London.
Khodorkovsky, who once controlled Russia’s biggest oil company, YUKOS, said the Russianeconomy would weaken further and that eventually its weakness would provoke a battle between the powerful clans which dominate Russia.
In a message which is likely to anger the 62-year-old Kremlin chief, the former tycoon also called on the West to build ties with opposition groups in expectation of an end to the Putin era.
“Tomorrow when the regime changes you will have to build a relationship and you will have very little time,” Khodorkovsky, 51, told an event organized by Chatham House policy thinktank.
Khodorkovsky, who once controlled YUKOS, was convicted of tax evasion and fraud in a Moscow trial which he said was motivated by enemies who wanted to rip apart his company and punish him for his political ambitions.
He always denied the charges. YUKOS was crippled with massive back-tax claims and then its main Siberian oil production units were sold off by the state, only to be bought later by state-controlled companies.
Khodorkovsky was pardoned by Putin in 2013 and left Russia.
He said Putin was in the twilight of his power but the finale of his presidency, which began in 1999, could last long and be painful and dangerous for both the West and Russia.
“Russia will have to stand long in agony by the bed of the sick emperor. It will be painful for the population and dangerous for the West,” said Khodorkovsky.
He said he believed the conflict in Ukraine would escalate further as Putin’s ultimate goal were much more broad.
“Putin doesn’t need Donbass (east Ukraine). He wants to determine the fate of the world at talks with a U.S. President,” Khodorkovsky said.
“Putin is dreaming of getting a deal with the United States about a new-old order for the world, when the world is split on zone of influence. When you cannot interfere in someone else’s zone. Not even to mention internal politics,” he said.
A chemical engineer who served in the Communist Youth League, Khodorkovsky started to trade goods as the Soviet Union crumbled.
He soon began buying up state assets, gaining control of some of Russia’s best oil fields and even pushing legislation he favored through parliament despite opposition of the Kremlin and government.
His wealth and power made Khodorkovsky one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs and his jailing made him Russia’s most famous prisoner. Putin once compared Khodorkovsky to U.S. gangster Al Capone.
On Thursday, the former billionaire declined to disclose his wealth when asked how much money he could invest in the currently very fragmented Russian opposition.
Russia opposition politician Boris Nemtsov shot dead
A leading Russian opposition politician, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, has been shot dead in Moscow, Russian officials say.
An unidentified attacker in a car shot Mr Nemtsov four times in the back as he crossed a bridge in view of the Kremlin, police say.
He died hours after appealing for support for a march on Sunday in Moscow against the war in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the murder, the Kremlin says.
President Putin has assumed “personal control” of the investigation into the killing, said his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
It “bears the hallmarks of a contract killing,” said Mr Peskov.
In a recent interview, Mr Nemtsov had said he feared Mr Putin would have him killed because of his opposition to the war in Ukraine.
Mr Nemtsov, 55, served as first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
He had earned a reputation as an economic reformer while governor of one of Russia’s biggest cities, Nizhny Novgorod.
Falling out of favour with Yeltsin’s successor, Mr Putin, he became an outspoken opposition politician.
Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, condemned the killing, saying in a tweet: “I am shocked and appalled key opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot. Killers must be brought to justice.”
US President Barack Obama condemned the “brutal murder” and called on the Russian government to conduct a “prompt, impartial and transparent investigation”.
Mr Nemtsov was shot at around 23:40 (20:40 GMT) on Friday while crossing Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge accompanied by a woman, Russia’s interior ministry said.
He was shot with a pistol from a white car which fled the scene, a police source told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
According to Russian-language news website Meduza, “several people” got out of a car and shot him.
One of the politician’s colleagues in his RPR-Parnassus party, Ilya Yashin, confirmed Mr Nemtsov’s death.
“Unfortunately I can see the corpse of Boris Nemtsov in front of me now,” he was quoted as saying by Russia’s lenta.ru news website.
Flowers were left at the site of the shooting through the night.
Analysis: Sarah Rainsford, BBC Moscow correspondent
A lawyer for Mr Nemtsov reported that he had received death threats over social media in recent months; but for now there’s only speculation as to why he was targeted. He openly opposed Moscow’s role in the crisis in Ukraine – and the annexation by Russia of Crimea.
He had been planning a rare public protest on Sunday against both things – and a growing economic crisis in this country.
Since his death, social media has been flooded with tributes to a man remembered as by friends as decent, honest and a democrat . He had been pushed to the political margins in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, but he was still prominent enough for someone to want to kill him.
In his last tweet, Mr Nemtsov sent out an appeal for Russia’s divided opposition to unite at an anti-war march he was planning for Sunday.
“If you support stopping Russia’s war with Ukraine, if you support stopping Putin’s aggression, come to the Spring March in Maryino on 1 March,” he wrote.
Speaking earlier this month to Russia’s Sobesednik news website, he had spoken of his fears for his own life.
“I’m afraid Putin will kill me,” he said in the article (in Russian) on 10 February.
“I believe that he was the one who unleashed the war in the Ukraine,” he added. “I couldn’t dislike him more.”
Mr Putin has been widely accused of fomenting the bloody rebellion in east Ukraine – an accusation he denies. Fighting there followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March last year.
Almost 5,800 people have died and at least 1.25 million have fled their homes, according to the UN.
The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia is helping the rebels with heavy weapons and soldiers.
Independent experts echo that accusation while Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are “volunteers”.
He said he was not looking for any state jobs should power change in Russia but he wanted to make sure the opposition changed the country so it had free elections and economy.
“It doesn’t matter if it take place tomorrow or in 10 years. Although we all hope to be still alive when it happens.”