Thursday, December 19, 2013
Gone with the Wind
President Vladimir Putin is to pardon one of his best known opponents, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, after a decade in jail in what may be a gesture to critics of his human rights record before Russia hosts the Winter Olympics.
Putin made the surprise announcement that he would soon free Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, after a marathon news conference on Thursday in which he exuded confidence that he has reasserted his authority in the face of street protests.
God works in mysterious ways. So does Vladimir Putin.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky became a martyr for external and internal critics of the regime.
He was an 1990's oil tycoon, westernized his company, stood up to Putin and got locked up for tax evasion as his company was taken over by the state. Yesterday's billionaire making shoes for the Russian military in a prison workshop in Siberia.
Now it looks like his freedom is in sight.
I was always cool toward this guy. I respected his chutzpah in challenging Putin especially when an option of fleeing abroad was open to him.
Then again, the way business was done in Russia in the 90's, if the law was applied equally, the outcome wouldn't be a free Khodorkovsky but rather this "human rights" icon being joined in prison by all other major "businessman" of the era.
For many Russian liberals, once someone picked up the pro-Western Democratic creed, all his past sins were absolved.
Not so for this immigrant. But I am happy to see him in reach of freedom.
Without the martyr's mantle, Khodorkovsky will be a dry, cerebral businessman with melancholy eyes.
Someone who pissed against the cold wind of Russian politics and remained alive to tell his tale.