Former Russia’s richest man has called out the country’s billionaire elites to publicly declare President Vladimir Putin a war criminal to prove they are not working together with the Kremlin.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who fled Russia to London in 2013 after falling foul of Putin and being jailed for nearly a decade, said high-profile Russians who left amid the invasion of Ukraine cannot stay silent about the atrocities being committed by Russian forces.
‘Public figures cannot leave quietly and then sit quietly. If you have left, then you should publicly dissociate yourself,’ Khodorkovsky told The Washington Post in an interview last week.
‘You should step up to the microphone and say that Putin is a war criminal and that what he is doing is a crime, that the war against Ukraine is a crime.
‘Say this, and then we’ll understand that Putin doesn’t have a hold over you,’ Khodorkovsky continued.
The exiled oligarch’s comments referred to a number of Russian elites, who since the invasion began have refused to openly condemn Putin’s war.
One man referred to by Khodorkovsky is Anatoly Chubais, an economist who was instrumental in the development of Russia’s post-Soviet economy – and the privatisation programmes which allowed Russia’s oligarchs to cultivate their vast fortunes.
Khodorkovsky also singled out two other elites, Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven of Alfa Group, who left Russia amid the invasion of Ukraine but are among Putin’s most high-profile oligarchs.
In an interview with BBC R4 last month, Khodorkovsky claimed the Russian tyrant ‘nowadays lives in his own world’ and insisted that ‘in the world he has created around him over the last 20 years he really believed he would be welcomed by people in the former Soviet republic as a liberator’.
Rubbishing allegations that Putin has gone ‘mad’, the former oil tycoon said that ‘everything that is happening today, is totally unexpected [to Putin]’.
‘Has he has put a limit on his time in power because of his aggression? That is for sure. Can he close off Russia in the way Iran has closed itself off, to be in a castle under siege? I doubt that very much. Russia is not like Iran. So in a year or two or three years, he will clearly lose power.’
Khodorkovsky has also been one of the most vocal advocates of strong economic sanctions against Russia to cripple Putin and the Russian elite, reasoning that Russian citizens would eventually rise up if their income dried up.
‘I think that the West has taken a very important action. The blocking of the accounts of the central bank is, in my opinion, the only sanction which can in the short-term stop the aggression in the short term, but this is not enough,’ the former tycoon said.
‘In order not to waste this first step, all the Kremlin’s options for using currency should be blocked. I would never have said this before, but now, when people close to me are being killed, in Kharkiv for example, I say that Putin’s troops should be forced out of Ukraine by any available means.
Khodorkovsky added: ‘In Ukraine, Putin is using the same troops that he uses to suppress people in Russia. If a situation arises where currency resources in Russia are limited and people will not be able to hold out until the end of the month for their salary, and people go out into the streets, Putin will have to withdraw the troops.’
In 2003, Khodorkovsky was believed to be the wealthiest man in Russia, with a fortune estimated to be worth $15 billion, and was ranked 16th on Forbes list of billionaires.