Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos Oil Co. owner who was released after 10 years in prison by Vladimir Putin, said Ukraine’s “revolution” is legitimate and not an unconstitutional coup as characterized by Russia.
Khodorkovsky, addressing students today at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, said neither Russia currently nor Ukraine under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych were “law-based” states because there was no separation of powers in the government. The West should provide financial aid to Ukraine as security against Russia, echoing the post-World War II Marshall Plan aid program sought intended to bolster economies and fight the spread of Soviet communism, he said.
Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky was imprisoned for tax evasion and fraud before Putin issued a surprise pardon in December. Ukraine is facing the loss of its Crimea region following last month’s ouster of Moscow-backed Yanukovych. Pro-Kremlin troops have occupied the peninsula, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, before a referendum on March 16 on whether to secede.
“Legal states exist only where and when there is a separation of powers, an independent judiciary and real changes in power as a result of elections,” Khodorkovsky said. “It’s completely clear that there’s nothing of the sort in Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych or in Russia under Vladimir Putin.”
Russian interference in Ukraine’s revolution is a “historic mistake” and Crimea should remain part of Ukraine with broad autonomy similar to Scotland’s, Khodorkovsky said.
“What is needed is a Marshall Plan for Ukraine,” Khodorkovsky said. “We need not only money but also an anti-corruption element.”
At a March 4 news conference, Putin said extremists orchestrated a coup to dislodge Yanukovych and that Russia did not recognize Ukraine’s new government.
Crimea, where ethnic Russians comprise the majority, has become the focal point of Ukraine’s political crisis after Yanukovych fled to Russia. Ukraine says its neighbor has sent almost 19,000 soldiers into the region before the referendum.
The crowd gave Khodorkovsky a standing ovation when he arrived and frequently applauded.
“He can become an emotional leader for Russians during this crisis between us and them,” Olga Dorosh, a French teacher at Kiev Polytechnic, said of Khodorkovsky outside the auditorium. “Of course he has no real power, but hopefully he can inspire some Russians to stand up against Putin’s nonsense.”
Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 and Yukos was subsequently dismantled and auctioned off to pay billions of dollars in back taxes. Most of its assets were eventually transferred to state-controlled Rosneft, which now produces about 40 percent of Russian oil.
Khodorkovsky and his supporters have proclaimed his innocence and his imprisonment was seen as a milestone in the Russian state wrestling back control of the oil industry, which underpins Putin’s power.
Along with the growth of Rosneft, the government expanded its role in the economy. State-owned companies have reached more than half of Russia’s economic output, compared with 42 percent in 2008, according to BNP Paribas SA’s Moscow unit.
Following his release from prison, Khodorkovsky said he is not interested in politics and will devote himself to helping Russia develop civil society.
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