HS interviews imprisoned Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Imprisoned oil billionaire warns of impendingn "stagnation"
Helsingin Sanomat was given the rare opportunity to interview former oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is imprisoned in Segezha in Russian Karelia. As no journalists are allowed in the prison, the questions were submitted in writing to Khodorkovsky’s spokeswoman, who later supplied the answers. It is impossible to know with any certainty if the answers were those of Khodorkovsky himself or if he was possibly censored or put under duress.
What are the conditions in which you are being held in Segezha?
Russia’s penal colony FBU IK-7 is located 150 kilometres from the Finnish border.
It is a fenced-off area of a few dozen hectares, and closely guarded by armed persons. The area includes prisoners’ dormitories, production buildings and social premises, which are separated from one another by barbed wire. I live in one of these dormitories with nearly 200 prisoners. The dormitory is small, but warm, which is important.
I work in a production building, producing plastic goods. As a worker. It is familiar to me. I have experience. I did the same kind of work 25 years ago.
Relations between prisoners vary, as is the case with any community like this, but there are not many serious conflicts.
You have been sentenced to prison through 2016. Are there political forces behind your sentences and if so, who are they?
Everyone in Russia knows that political forces are behind my sentencing, and they do not spark any kind of discussion. These are the siloviki [security service personnel] of the inner circle of [Prime Minister] Vladimir Putin. If we speak about individuals, [current Deputy Prime Minister] Igor Sechin has a leading role.
You have said that if Putin returns to the presidency, “the hope of many for reform of the present power structure will disappear, and emigration of Russia’s societally active intelligentsia will sharply accelerate”.
What is the future of Russia, now that the Putin presidency has been decided for all practical purposes, and could continue another 12 years?
I assume that we are faced with stagnation. For instance, after 2015, when the economic resources of those presently in power have been exhausted, any crisis may prove to be its last.
Will you be released as long as Putin is in power? What do you plan to do when you are released? Will you go into politics, will you go into business, or will you move out of the country?
Putin will release me only if doing so will benefit him more than keeping me in prison would. In addition I doubt that he would dare allow me to act in politics.
What do you feel about what will happen to Mikhail Prokhorov, who has declared himself a challenger to Putin?
At present, Mikhail Prokhorov seems to be nothing but a project of Putin, even though this might not be to the liking of Prokhorov himself.
If he really proves to be a project of Putin, he will have to guarantee Vladimir Putin a position in the political centre. But politics – and judging from the December protests, politics is coming back to Russia – is more complicated than primitive formulae. This is why I will not try to predict Prokhorov’s fate, and everything can change in a completely unexpected direction.
Do you regret having stayed in Russia in 2003? Why did you stay?
I have answered this question many times. Perhaps a short answer is the easiest for your readers to understand: I stayed because I am a Russian.
How have the years you have spent in prison changed you? How has Russia changed?
Prison destroyed the businessman in me. I doubt that I can ever think according to categories of economic advantage. The values are different. I feel that my country is also changing all the time. The civic society is taking shape. I like the views that today’s youth have started to adopt.
The European Court of Human rights has not recognised your sentence as having been politically motivated. What do you think of this?
I understand the motives of the European Court of Human rights. It did not recognise the obvious fact that there is evidence of political motives behind my arrest and incarceration. Meanwhile, this fact is conceded openly even by Russian civil servants.
The court also did not recognise the equally obvious and generally recognised political motivations behind the dissolution and destruction of [the oil company] Yukos when it processed Yukos’s appeal. The destruction of Yukos was the result of the discriminatory implementation of a “retroactive” law.
Positive cooperation with those who are in power in Russia is in the interests of the European Court of Human Rights, because the court fears that the impact of its decisions on the situation in Russia might remain low.
For these reasons the court is forced to relent in certain matters to those in power in Russia. Unfortunately, the concessions erode the reputation of the court in the eyes of the most active Russians who support the European trend of development.
What do you know about Finland, which is near the place where you are serving our new sentence? Do you have friends or acquaintances in Finland? Who are they?
I have been in Finland a couple of times. I skied. I bought good winter clothing. I visited your water parks and villages in the north. I tried to copy something from that for us in Siberia.
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: Oil billionaire who defied Putin given long prison sentences
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt lavishes praise on jailed Russian businessman (21.4.2009)
Russian dissidents call for tough stance from West (10.6.2008)