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Khodorkovsky Calls On Russian Opposition To Avoid Radicalization, Division

  • RFE/RL

Ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) with his former business partner Platon Lebedev before they were sentenced to jail on embezzlement charges.

Ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky (left) with his former business partner Platon Lebedev before they were sentenced to jail on embezzlement charges.

Imprisoned Russian ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is calling on opponents of Vladimir Putin's rule to avoid the radicalization of peaceful protests and internal divisions if they want to remain a possible future political alternative in Russia.

Khodorkovsky made his call in an article published on February 29 in Russia's "Kommersant" newspaper -- just days before the March 4 election in which Putin is expected to win a third term as president.

In his article, Khodorkovsky argues that if voters deny Putin victory in the first round, forcing a runoff, this would in itself signal an end to what he calls the "monopoly of power" in Russia.

Russian opinion polls have shown Putin's opponents in the presidential contest trailing far behind the prime minister, with none rising above 15 percent.

Khodorkovsky says the mass protests sparked by evidence of fraud in the December parliamentary election have changed the balance of power in Russia and destroyed what he calls the "myth" of Putin as a guarantor of stability and of the lack of alternative to his rule.

Khodorkovsky also warns that "professional provocateurs" could try to discredit the mass protest movement by pushing it toward radical developments along the lines of what he calls "storming the Kremlin."

Avoiding Internal Divisions

He says Putin's opponents should use all means possible to avoid internal divisions and splits into factions, as this will play into the Kremlin's hands.

Khodorkovsky urges the opposition to continue peaceful mass protests which he says have already borne fruit and could achieve even more.

And he says that the opposition should take advantage of Kremlin-proposed political reforms, including direct elections of regional governors and easing the registration of political parties.

Critics have denounced the proposed reforms as window-dressing, but Khodorkovsky argues they could nevertheless become catalysts for change.

The article in "Kommersant" is the latest penned by Khodorkovsky from his prison cell in the far north of Russia.

In an article published in several Western newspapers earlier this week, Khodorkovsky said that Russia's citizens now want a "real seat at the table in a system of democracy and pluralism and they will not take no for an answer."

And, in response to RFE/RL's questions forwarded by his lawyers, he said that Russians should not vote for "candidates for victory" but for those who are "rather the symbols of the possible future development" of Russia.

Khodorkovsky, former chief of the now-disbanded oil company Yukos, has been in prison since his 2003 arrest for alleged tax evasion, and could remain imprisoned until 2017.

The human rights group Amnesty International has declared him a "prisoner of conscience."

Putin Slams Opposition

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned his opponents against unsanctioned protests after the presidential election scheduled for March 4.

On February 29, Putin denounced the opposition for declaring the vote "illegitimate in advance."

He also said his opponents should "submit to the opinion of the majority," and accused the opposition of planning dirty tricks, including stuffing of ballot boxes, to discredit the vote.

Evidence of widespread vote-rigging in the December 4 parliamentary election sparked mass protests demanding an end to Putin's 12-year rule as president and prime minister.

With AP and AFP reporting

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