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Putin Foe Speaks to VOA

Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) awaits a question from VOA Russian’s Alexander Panov
Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) awaits a question from VOA Russian’s Alexander Panov

WASHINGTON, D.C.—After being silent about it for more than ten years, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the most well-known political opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is once again talking Russian politics.

He ended his silence this week in Washington, where he was the keynote speaker at a Freedom House annual awards dinner and where he also gave an extensive television interview to VOA’s Russian Service.

The long-time foe of President Putin, who spent much of the last ten years in a Russian prison after being convicted of fraud, made it clear in the interview that he is willing to confront Mr. Putin again. He said his goal, through his Open Russia project, is to use online technologies as well as traditional means “to enable the European-oriented part of the Russian society to communicate with each other, to find each other and work together in their common interest.”

The Open Russia project is an updated version of Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia Foundation, which he established in 2001 to push for human rights and political freedoms in Russia.

Though he wants the Open Russia project “to become an influential political force in Russia,” he made it clear that he is “not interested in acquiring control of the bureaucracy” or seek political office. He said his goal is to use “political methods to push for change” in Russia.

On the subject of Ukraine, he was equally forthright, saying Putin made “a big political mistake.” There is a choice, Khodorkovsky said, between acquiring territory and preserving a relationship with a brotherly people: “I would have made a choice in favor of friendship with a neighbor, because Russia does not have that many allies.”

When asked by VOA about his assessment of the state of the U.S.-Russia relations, he said that throughout history, discounting the 70 years of the Soviet Union, “there are more episodes where we cooperated than the episodes where we were rivals.”

The VOA Russian interview is available on the service’s website. With its access to radio and TV audiences constrained by government pressure on broadcast media outlets, VOA Russian employs a digital strategy to inform and engage Russian speakers, focusing on bilateral US-Russian issues, human rights, and Western perspectives on the Kremlin’s emerging foreign policies, and their implications for the peoples of Europe and across the globe.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, VOA Russian has seen an increase in audience activity on all its digital platforms. So far this year the service's website has recorded more than 9.5 million unique visitors who viewed over 60 million pages.