Khodorkovsky Says He Won’t Seek Russian Presidency in 2018

  • Billionaire announces contest to find challenger to Putin
  • Ex-Yukos chief says Russia faces ‘quasi-elections’ in 2018

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who’s vowed to end Vladimir Putin’s rule after he spent a decade in prison under the Kremlin leader, said he won’t run in 2018 presidential elections as he announced a contest to find an opposition challenger.

“I don’t plan to announce my own candidacy,” Khodorkovsky, 53, told reporters in Moscow on Monday via a video link from London, where he’s in exile after being pardoned by Putin and freed in 2013. While “the presidential election will be a quasi-election” that won’t permit a change of power, it’s important “to present new faces to the public,” he said.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Photographer: Gianluca Colla/Bloomberg

The billionaire former Yukos Oil Co. chief, who’s backing 18 opposition candidates in Russia’s parliamentary election on Sunday, said the new project seeks to answer the question of“who instead of Putin” can be a credible president. His Open Elections organization lists 13 possible candidates on a website, including Yabloko Party leader Grigory Yavlinsky, former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny, and Tatyana Yumasheva, daughter of the late President Boris Yeltsin.

Khodorkovsky was Russia’s richest man when he was jailed in 2003 on tax-evasion and money-laundering charges that he says were retribution for funding opposition parties. His conviction means he’s barred under Russian law from standing for public office, though he’s been supporting efforts to oust Putin since his release and said in September 2014 that he’s ready to lead Russia in a crisis situation. While Russia’s in a second year of recession, its longest in two decades, that’s plunged millions of people into poverty, Putin’s popularity rating remains above 80 percent amid patriotic fervor unleashed by his 2014 annexation of Crimea.

‘More Vulnerable’

Putin, 63, said in a Sept. 1 interview that he hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll seek a record fourth term in 2018 to extend his grip on power to 2024.

“Every period that Putin spends in power makes our country more vulnerable, it’s hard to say how much more Russia can bear,” Khodorkovsky said. “I’m convinced people are ready for a change,” and the project seeks to present them with possible alternative leaders, he said.

There’s “nothing interesting” in Khodorkovsky’s proposal, which is being developed “by people who are already irrevocably cut off from Russia, from what’s happening here,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on a conference call Monday.

The ideal opposition candidate in 2018 will be a young politician with a record of eight years of public service, Khodorkovsky said. He has the right to support candidates financially with his own money within the law, he said

Khodorkovsky responded defiantly last year when prosecutors charged him in absentia with murder over the 1998 death of a mayor in a Siberian oil town, saying Russia “won’t have to wait long for a revolution, it’s inevitable.”

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