A former Russian oil tycoon who was recently released from jail after ten years has decided to challenge Putin.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky was once the richest man in the world under 40 due to his wealth from oil company Yukos. Yukos, which was sold to Khodorkovsky duing Russia’s privatisation, was an oil and gas production company that was making significant strides in corporate governance and transparency. At its height, Yukos was producing around 20% of Russian oil, or 2% of global oil production, and was the 4th largest private company in the world.
However, Khodorkovsky started to become increasingly political, calling for laws on human rights, anti-corruptoin, and overall transparency. He started a movement called Open Russia to support the implementation of the legal system. Seen increasingly as an ally for the West in Russia and having former US President Henry Kissinger on the board, his reforms could have been seen as too fast for a newly capitalist Russia.
Khodorkovsky was arrested in December 2003 due to alleged tax fraud and oil embezzlement and Yukos was quickly broken up and sold. Part of that sale involved a company called Sibneft, owned by Roman Abramovich, which was merged with Yukos. It can be argued the $13 billion profit has helped fuel Chelsea FC’s £2 billion spend over the last 10 years.
Khodorkovsky was released in December 2013 on a pardon from President Putin. Vowing to stay away from politics, the recent Ukrainian situation has caused him to u-turn and start Open Russia again, where he hopes to bring Russia more inline with Europe in both democratic and economic cooperation.
Last week saw the largest opposition event since Putin’s re-election. Reports of around 26,000 people took part in a peaceful protest. “A minority will be influential if it is organised,” Khodorkovsky stated when broadcasting his intentions. He said that change could come quickly as “the time had come to think of Russia’s future after Putin.”
Khodorkovsky has made it clear that Open Russia is still a charity and would be an online “platform” for like-minded people, not a political party.