Khodorkovsky calls on the UK to ban senior Russian officials from Olympics
Mikhail Khodorkovsky. former head of YUKOS whose imprisonment is widely seen as being politically motivated, has, via his lawyers, given an interview to the UK newspaper the Daily Telegraph. The newspaper’s version can be read here. The following is the full text of his answers.
INTERVIEW WITH THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
1. Is Vladimir Putin a legitimate president?
Democracy in Russia does not adhere to the same ground rules as in the West. We saw this in the widespread voter fraud and manipulation in last year’s Duma elections when thousands took to the streets in protest and there is further evidence that fraud took place in the Presidential elections this March. We need to remind people that the only candidates who stood against Putin for President were those that were sanctioned to stand against him by the regime. Independent opposition to Putin’s Party, United Russia, gets suppressed. The Law on election of regional Governors turns them into a sham, thereby stifling any opportunity for different parties to develop and mature as credible alternatives to the status quo. There is no independent federal TV station offering a different version of the news to that of the Kremlin. In short, there exists a ‘managed democracy’ which gives the appearance of democracy, but the voters don’t believe they have a real choice – they are simply asked to rubber stamp a decision that has already been taken by the power structures inside the Kremlin.
So Putin may have received a majority of the votes cast in the Presidential elections, but the real point is that there wasn’t a proper contest.
Legitimacy is based on a mandate granted by the people to govern. The Russian people set out the terms of that mandate quite clearly, including on the streets of Moscow during the protests. However, I am yet to see those terms acted upon by the President.
2. Do you have any recommendations for how the British government should deal with Vladimir Putin? What would you ask David Cameron to say to Putin when they next meet; what issues should Cameron raise?
I would hope that the British Prime Minister takes the role of a candid friend of Russia in dealing with Vladimir Putin. If he is willing there is much that Putin can do to push Russian society down the road to democracy and reform. But surrounding himself by ‘yes men’, he will not often hear the case for change. It is the role of other world leaders to spell out the price Russia tragically pays for being semi-detached from the family of modern democratic nations. My country badly needs investment and foreign experience, but few investors want to put money into a country where the state expropriates assets and where the rule of law has been corrupted. In turn, the West has much to gain if checks and balances of a modern democratic state create a stable democracy in Russia where its citizens can feel secure.
I would strongly urge Mr Cameron to speak the truth to Mr Putin, that Russia cannot survive on fossil fuels alone and that the days of being able to maintain a ‘managed democracy’ are numbered.
3. Should Putin be allowed to attend the Olympics in London this summer? Would you ask the British government to prevent him attending? If so, why?
I understand it would be very difficult for the British Government to ban any Head of State from the Olympics, especially from a member-state of the G8 and Council of Europe. I also, however, understand that the values of the Olympics are about respect, excellence and friendship and it would do Putin no harm to be exposed to these ideals and think of applying them at home. The Russian people deserve the respect of their leaders, toleration of differences, fair play instead of corrupt practices and an encouragement to give the best of oneself without having to second guess the actions and attitudes of those in power. The British people are well-known for their sense of fair play and I hope the British people get a chance to express this belief to our President if he attends the Olympic in London this summer. I wish the games well.
However, there is something that the British Government can do to raise the profile of human rights whilst playing host to the Olympic Games. In June 2011, one of Russian Opposition leaders, Garry Kasparov, introduced a list to the U.S. House of Representatives of those involved with human rights violations and I would call on the UK public to look closely at Kasparov’s list when checked against the Russian delegation visiting for London 2012.
4. Do you expect to be released before the end of your sentence? Why/why not?
I have no expectation of an early release. The decision of my release depends on the vector of the country’s development.
5. What will you do when you get out of prison?
Before I was put in jail I was devoting more and more of my time to building civil society. I intend to continue this work and wish I had been able to do more whilst I was a free man. More importantly, I want to see my family. I would like to make up for lost time with them. The hope of one day being able to hold my granddaughter in my arms is one of my many dreams that keep me going.
6. Do you have any thoughts on what happened during the protest rally in Moscow on May 6?
I have been told that tens of thousands of people took part in the protest rally on the eve of Putin’s inauguration as President. I sympathise with the crowds’ frustration with a political system that is failing to properly represent the views of the public. People in Russia are fed up with corruption and cronyism, they want the proper rule of law and they want to be involved in choices about their future and their children’s future. It’s a frustration that is only going to grow and is a pressure to which I hope Putin will eventually –stop reacting as if though it is some kind of an enemies’ scheme.
7. Do you see any promising potential leaders of Russia in the current opposition movement? Who, why?
From jail, my engagement is with writers and thinkers. I enjoyed my exchange of letters with Boris Akunin, with Lyudmila Ulitskaya, and with Boris Strugatsky. I admire them greatly; they appear to play inspiring and courageous roles.
8. What are your thoughts on the current tactics of the Russian opposition? What should be their priorities be? What should they focus their energies on?
There is much for the opposition to focus on – first of all to register parties, which as of May 2012 they are legally allowed to do. They can then do much valuable work publicising information on bribes and beatings, as well as maintain pressure on the Kremlin to create a public, independent television station as promised so that citizens can finally hear an impartial version of the news and not the usual propaganda.
For the future we have been promised there will be elections rather than appointment for regional governors. If this indeed happens, elections taking place across the country will provide an important training ground for Russia’s fledgling opposition parties. They must use this opportunity well and particularly if they are elected they will then have a platform for real change, to give Russians a chance to see how different things could be when the rule of law is observed and corruption stamped out. In particular, they need to challenge the self-serving interests of the Siloviki - the state bureaucrats who are well known for acting in their own, rather than the peoples’ interests.
9. Do you financially support Russian political parties or non-party democracy activists in any way at the moment? If so, please give details. Do you intend to in the future?
No I do not. From prison, I can only now support the development of democracy and a pluralist system through my pen. The focus of my writings in jail and my fervent hope for Russia is to do more to build civic society. I believe in the rule of law and I want Russia to do so much more to create a vibrant market economy, rather than rely entirely on fossil fuels to prop up her economy.
I believe that these are the aspirations of the growing democratic opposition movement, and I share their hope. Individual political parties with different ideas and policy platforms will grow out of these ideals, but what is important for now is to have people focused on the most important things needed to change Russian society and to ensure that such changes are achievable without recourse to a civil war. Anything I can do to both safeguard and support our country’s future, I will do without question.
10. Do you welcome the British Government’s recent announcement to impose visa bans on human rights abusers?
I understand that the British Government’s recent Human Rights Report has significantly toughened its stance on banning human rights abusers from the UK, where there is independent, reliable and credible evidence that the individual has committed such crimes. I am supportive of this step. I believe that such measures provide well-targeted justice, whilst also having the ability to act as a powerful deterrent to would-be human rights abusers who enjoy very much travelling to Europe and the USA, having their children go to schools and colleges there and buying expensive properties in sought-after locations.
It is important to understand that where the state supports human rights abuses there can be no justice for the abused or for their grieving relatives, as is the case with my friend, Vasily Alexanyan who died last year. He was an exceptional young man, a very talented lawyer who loved life and had much to live for. But his determination to protect the rights of the shareholders of Yukos cost him his life as the Russian authorities denied him the medical treatment he needed to try and make him co-operate with their wrongful practices. He contracted AIDS, became blinded and was only given medical attention – chemotherapy whilst handcuffed to his bed - due to public outrage. By then it was too late.
I think of him often and I want justice for him and his family. Before he died, Vasya named the people who abused him, but in Russia only God is “their” judge. I applaud countries around the world who want to play their part in ensuring that his cruel and inhuman death does not go unpunished. It gives everyone hope that the world is watching and that those committing these evil acts will not get away with it.