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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."

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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.

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