Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (right) greets Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky at the General Aviation Terminal in the south of the airport Berlin-Schoenefeld, Germany, yesterday.
MOSCOW/BERLIN: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oil tycoon jailed for a decade after criticising Vladimir Putin, was freed by a presidential pardon yesterday and immediately flew to Berlin where he hoped to be reunited with his family.
Once Russia’s richest man, the 50-year-old looked pale and thin but happy in a photograph of him being greeted by German well-wishers on the tarmac after landing on a private jet.
President Putin, who surprised Russians and pleased the business community by announcing Khodorkovsky’s pardon on Thursday, said he was acting out of “principles of humanity”.
A Russian government source said freeing his best-known and potentially most powerful critic could deflect international complaints about Putin’s human rights record as Russia prepares to host the Winter Olympics at Sochi in seven weeks time.
The move, which Putin said on Thursday was prompted by the illness of Khodorkovsky’s mother, also appeared to show that Putin is feeling confident in his control of the country after facing down street protests when he was re-elected last year.
Within hours of being released from Penal Colony No. 7 at Segezha, deep in the sub-Arctic forest near the Finnish border, Khodorkovsky was in the German capital and issued a statement confirming that he had sought a pardon from his nemesis for family reasons and had not admitted guilt on the fraud charges.
“I appealed to the Russian president on November 12 with a request for a pardon in connection with family circumstances,” he said. “The issue of an admission of guilt was not raised.