Russia’s former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said he would stay away from his homeland but help to free Russian political prisoners still behind bars.
Mobbed by reporters at his first news conference in Berlin on Sunday, barely two days since leaving jail, Khodorkovsky admitted he had been given no choice over his final destination and thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for aiding his liberation.
Remember, I am not the last political prisoner in Russia.
Khodorkovsky, formerly Russia’s richest man, said he had no intention of becoming involved in Russian politics and could not return to the country so long as a court order for him to pay $550mn in damages was still in place.
“A fight for power is not for me,” said Khodorkovsky, at the news conference held in the Berlin Wall museum at the symbolic Cold War location of Checkpoint Charlie.
He said he would focus his energies on helping political prisoners walk out of Russian jails.
“I will do everything so that there are none left, do everything I can,” he said, adding that Western governments should “remember I am not the last political prisoner in Russia.”
Rights groups are still seeking to secure the release of around a dozen protesters arrested for their role in a 2012 rally on the eve of Putin’s inauguration for a third term, who many see as political prisoners.
Khodorkovsky’s co-accused, business partner and friend Platon Lebedev also remains incarcerated.
He said he could only return to Russia if the Supreme Court lifted the lawsuit claiming the $550mn in damages.
The existence of the claim meant that if he ever returned there was no “guarantee” he would ever be allowed to leave Russia.
In an interview earlier following his release, Khodorkovsky contested Kremlin’s claim that he was not forced into exile, saying it was clear the government had suggested he leave Russia.
“Our authorities can say honestly that they did not exile me,” said the former political prisoner, in an interview published in The New Times on Sunday.
“But knowing our reality, we can absolutely clearly understand that they suggested I leave the country.”
In the same interview he also ruled out pursuing a career in Russian politics and said he would not be fighting for the return of Yukos assets, many of which ended up in the hands of the state-run oil company Rosneft.
The 50-year-old said there were no conditions attached to the presidential pardon, but that he had written Putin a letter to say: “I do not intend to get involved in politics and do not intend to fight for the return of (Yukos) assets.”
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told AFP news agency on Saturday that Khodorkovsky was “absolutely” free to return to Russia, days after the president unexpectedly announced a pardon for his long-time critic.
Khodorkovsky had spent 10 years in jail and was convicted alongside his colleague Platon Lebedev in 2003 for a number of financial crimes.
|Maria Lipman, of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, talks about the political implications of Khodorkovsky’s release from prison.|
But last week Putin announced he was freeing the man who had funded communist and liberal and communist opposition against him and who had also challenged the Kremlin’s energy interests.
“Guided by humanitarian principles, I decree that Mikhail Borisovich Khodorkovsky… should be pardoned and freed from any further punishment in the form of imprisonment. This decree comes into force from the day of its signing,” said the decree.
Since his release on Friday, Khodorkovsky has been reunited with his parents and his eldest son, Pavel, and his parents.
He has also issued a statement confirming that he asked Putin for a pardon, but that his request was not an admission of guilt, and thanked Germany’s former foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, for helping to negotiate his release.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Maria Lipman, political analyst from the Carnegie Moscow centre, said Khodorkovsky would not have been released if he was seen as a threat by Putin.
Lipman said Putin was able to secure an agreement that would make the former oil tycoon stay away from Russian politics.