A handout picture released by Newtimes.ru yesterday shows Mikhail Khodorkovsky during his first interview after his release with the editor in chief of the Russian weekly newspaper Newtimes in hotel ‘Adlon’ in Berlin, Germany.
BERLIN: Russia’s former richest man and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was yesterday reunited with his son in Berlin, after his surprise release from a Russian prison and lightning transfer to Germany.
A day after he was whisked away from his prison camp in a remote corner of northern Russia, Khodorkovsky was ensconced in one of the most luxurious hotels in the German capital.
The extraordinary operation that has stunned Russia was worked out behind the scenes with the German government and came about after negotiations between ex-German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Russian President Vladimir Putin. After meeting the 50-year-old ex-oil tycoon, a German politician told reporters that his return to Russia was “not on the agenda” but that she had no mandate to talk about his plans.
Greens MP Marieluise Beck, who is a longstanding friend and supporter of the former oligarch, said that only his eldest son Pavel, who lives in New York, was already in Berlin, but added: “The mother is on the way here.”
Pavel had earlier told reporters outside the Adlon Hotel in central Berlin where his father arrived on Friday that his family had been “finally reunited”.
A spokesman told AFP earlier that Khodorkovsky’s parents, Marina and Boris, were “on their way” to Berlin.
Released on Friday after 10 years behind bars, Khodorkovsky will symbolically give his first news conference today near the Cold War symbol, Check Point Charlie, a well-known crossing point from East to West Berlin.
Khodorkovsky’s 79-year-old mother, who has cancer, said earlier yesterday she was taking sedatives to help her cope with her emotions.
“We survived grief but it is also apparently hard to survive joy,” Marina Khodorkovskaya said in comments broadcast on Russian state television.
Khodorkovsky, a vocal Putin critic, was jailed for financial crimes in separate convictions in 2005 and 2010, but his supporters said he was being punished for daring to finance the opposition.
He had been due for release in August 2014.
Putin shocked Russia on Thursday by saying that, after a decade behind bars, his fierce opponent had turned to him for a pardon on humanitarian grounds, citing his mother’s ill health.
Less than 24 hours later, Khodorkovsky was granted the pardon, walked out of prison in a region near the border with Finland and flew to Berlin on a private jet organised by Genscher.
Prison officials said Khodorkovsky had requested to fly to Germany, where his mother had undergone treatment before.
With Russia and the world eagerly waiting to learn of Khodorkovsky’s plans, a German analyst who helped with his transfer said the former oligarch would likely stay out of politics but could become a high-profile public figure and moral authority.
“He could take upon himself the role of (Alexander) Solzhenitsyn,” Alexander Rahr, who acted as a translator for Genscher, told AFP, referring to the former Soviet dissident and Nobel-prize winning author.
Rahr said that Genscher had asked him to support the mediation with the Russian authorities two and a half years ago, adding that he had helped translate letters. Not even his wife knew of the effort, he added.