Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, then Russia's most famous convict until his release in December 2013, has told newspapers he will launch a political movement to contest parliamentary elections in 2016, and could go on to contest the presidency in 2018.
Khodorkovsky, the former owner of oil company Yukos, said that he was ready to become president of Russia “if it will be necessary to overcome a crisis”, according to French newspaper Le Monde.
“This is not a task I am striving for. I would not be interested in becoming president if the country were developing normally," Khodorkovsky told Le Monde in an interview. "But if it will be necessary to overcome a crisis and conduct constitutional reform, mainly to redistribute power from the president to the justice system, parliament and civil society, then I would be ready to take on this part of the work."
Khodorkovsky spent nearly 10 years in jail on economic crime charges that led to the nationalisation of Yukos in 2005. He was released in December 2013, nine months before his end of sentence, on the order of President Vladimir Putin. Khodorkovsky said he had agreed with the Kremlin not to engage in politics until after August 24 2014, the date on which he would have anyway been released. Khodorkovsky before his imprisonment had widely been seen as a pro-western force in Russia, although he never openly engaged in politics.
With that date passed, and Russia in the midst of a crisis in its relations with the west over aggression in Ukraine, Khodorkovsky outlined his political philosophy and plans to French newspaper Le Monde and Russian business daily Vedomosti. “We share what are usually called 'European values' and are not in agreement with a political course that declares such values to be outside the law," Khodorkovsky said.
Focus on Duma elections 2016
Khodorkovsky also relaunched his social movement Open Russia on September 20 - originally launched in 2001 - placing it back at the heart of his political activity, as parliamentary elections in Russia approach in 2016.
“The main aim of resistance is elections on all levels, but first and foremost, of course, elections in 2016 to a parliament that has become the bulwark of reaction in Russia,” Khodorkovsky said in the interview with the Le Monde.
According to Khodorkovsky, Open Russia does not intend to participate in elections as an independent political force, but is ready to provide support to worthy candidates. “For effective resistance you don't need a party trained to battle for power with another such vertically structured party, but a horizontal alliance of many small social groups, that can unite in a common cause," Khordorkovsky told Le Monde.
In a lengthy interview with Russian business daily Vedomosti on September 22, Khodorkovsky fleshed out his political strategy of contesting parliamentary elections using network structures. "Even if elections have almost become a fiction, the authorities cannot allow people to believe the elections a complete fiction, otherwise they will lose their legitimacy. This means that the opposition has a chance," Khodorkovsky told Vedomosti.
"It is precisely here that the authorities are ready to take tough measures, or to make concessions, if we are cleverer. And the next elections to the Duma are less than two years away. "
But Khodorkovsky also argued that opposition in the classic sense of political parties is not very effective, because it is easy to repress. Thus opposition has to be built as a network, without a single centre.
How this network will work and participate in elections remains vague. In the Vedomosti interview he outlined four vectors of activity for the network: One approach is some sort of network or interface for interaction, both online and offline. Secondly, to gather like-minded experts and help them implement their ideas. Thirdly, fundraising for specific tasks and projects. Fourthly, training for politically engaged people, including for their activity during elections,.
Finally, Khodorkovsky underlined that the goal of such an opposition would be to change the constitution, to shift power from the executive to the legislative branch - ironically something that his opponents often accused him of trying to achieve, before his arrest in 2004, when an estimated 100-150 deputies in the Duma voted on the Yukos ticket, according to reports at the time.
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