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Putin Says Top Critic Khodorkovsky Is Free to Enter Political Arena

Mikhail Khodorkovsky Holds First Press Conference Since Prison Release

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of his biggest critics, had the right to engage in politics “as any Russian citizen”, Reuters said on December 18.

Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky a year ago and the former oligarch was released after a decade in prison the following month, Reuters said.

At his annual year-end news conference, Putin also differentiated between the opposition and what he called the “fifth column, ” claiming that the latter operates in the interest of foreign governments and is not patriotic, the Sputnik news agency said.

“The fine line between the opposition and the ‘fifth column’ is internal and it’s difficult to notice from the outside…An opposition figure, even if he’s very harsh, in the end he fights for the interests of his motherland, but the ‘fifth column’ represents people who fulfill what is dictated to them in the interests of another government and they are used as an instrument to reach political goals that are foreign to us, ” Sputnik quoted Putin as saying.

Putin assured journalists that the Russian government did not, and had no intention to, persecute or to defame those who oppose its policies.

“I would like to assure you that there is no organization or any sort of ‘poisoning’ of people who don’t agree with our actions, for example in Ukraine, Crimea, or any other external issues, no one from the official government organs does this, ” Putin said.

Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, sentenced to ten years in prison for fraud and tax evasion and pardoned for “humanitarian reasons” has a right to engage in politics and is eligible to run for senior positions, President Putin said.

“He had submitted a petition for pardon…It did not seem that he was planning to engage in politics, but when taking a decision to pardon him, I was not basing it on what he can or cannot do, or on whether he will or he will not engage in politics, this is his choice and he has a right to do it, just like any other Russian citizen, ” the president said.

According to the Russian leader, he decided to pardon Khodorkovsky for “humanitarian reasons” in order to give him a possibility to say good-bye to his terminally ill mother. Commenting on the president’s words, Khodorkovsky tweeted that he views Putin as a political opponent and not as an enemy.




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