Skip to main content

Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky speaks out

By Holly Yan and Dan Wright, CNN
updated 9:58 AM EST, Sun December 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Khodorkovsky says he'll be involved in "social activities," not politics or business
  • Mikhail Khodorkovsky was released Friday after 10 years in prison
  • He says he was stabbed in the face while he was in prison
  • He says Putin might have pardoned him earlier if he had said he was guilty

An extended version of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's interview will air Monday at 2 p.m. ET on Amanpour.

(CNN) -- For the first time since his release, Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky is telling the world about the 10 years he spent behind bars as a critic of the Kremlin.

The oil magnate, who backed an opposition party, had been in prison since 2003 and was convicted in 2005 of tax evasion and fraud. He was due for release next year, but President Vladimir Putin signed an amnesty decree for him Friday.

In his first television interview, the former Yukos oil tycoon told CNN's Christiane Amanpour there were no conditions for his release.

"Mr. Putin, on a number of times, publicly said that he was ready to consider the question of my pardoning -- but I had to say I was guilty for that," Khodorkovsky said during the interview in Berlin. "That was an unacceptable condition for me."

U.S. slights Russia over gay debate

Russia has faced international criticism for its treatment of Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man. Countries such as the United States have accused Russia of selective prosecution and abuse of the legal system.

Khodorkovsky made a fortune in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union and used the wealth of his Yukos oil company to enter Russian opposition politics.

He has said his prosecution was part of a Kremlin campaign to destroy him and take control of the company he built from privatization deals of the 1990s.

While in prison, Khodorkovsky said, he was stabbed in the face.

"When I was stabbed with a knife I was lucky -- he tried to get to my eye but he got my nose," he said. "As a result, the dentist who was there -- someone who was also a plastic surgeon -- carried out an operation on me, which means it was virtually not noticeable."

Putin's decision to pardon Khodorkovsky, who was supposed to be released next August, is seen by many as an effort to improve the country's image before it hosts the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

Officials say Khodorkovsky was released on humanitarian grounds because his mother is ill.

When asked whether he forgives Putin, the former political rival replied, "I would put it differently, perhaps. I don't think that revenge would be any rational behavior. And something that is rational behavior I can always deal with."

'Not interested in a fight for power'

Speaking at a press conference at the Berlin Wall Museum on Sunday, Khodorkovsky thanked those who stood by him and aided in his release.

He said he was still thinking about his future plans.

"I do not intend to be involved in political activity. ... I intend to be involved in social activities," he said, adding he also did not intend to go back into business. "I am not interested in a fight for power."

Khodorkovsky said many political prisoners remain behind bars in Russia and urged Western politicians to keep that in mind when they meet Putin.

"You should not see me as a symbol that there are no political prisoners left in Russia," Khodorkovsky said.

"I am a symbol that the efforts of civil society may lead to the release of people whose release was not expected by anyone."

CNN's Marie-Louise Gumuchian, Diana Magnay and Olga Pavlova contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:08 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It's hard not to be nervous, standing outside the Ebola isolation wards.
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
updated 12:40 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 11:35 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis".
updated 5:26 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT