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Khodorkovsky 'Will Help' Political Prisoners

Freed Khodorkovsky Challenges Putin Over Political Prisoners
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WATCH: Mikhail Khodorkovsky challenges Russian President Vladimir Putin over political prisoners

At his first news conference after his release from prison, former Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has said he will try to help secure the release of other Russian political prisoners.

"One should not see me as a symbol that there are no political prisoners left in Russia," Khodorkovsky told journalists at a December 22 press conference near Checkpoint Charlie, the former Cold War symbol that marked the crossing from East to West Berlin.

"I would like you to take me as a symbol that the efforts of civil society may lead to the release of people whose release was not expected by anyone."

Khodorkovsky also thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her role in securing his release from prison and paid tribute to journalists, who he said had highlighted his case over the years.

Khodorkovsky was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and released from a remote prison near the Arctic Circle on December 20. German diplomats reportedly helped secure his release.

Khodorkovsky Press Conference In Quotes

The former Yukos oil billionaire had been jailed for more than 10 years on fraud and tax-evasion charges.

At the Berlin press conference, Khodorkovsky said he would not withdraw from public life, but would not get directly involved in Russian politics.

"The struggle for power is not for me," he said.

The 50-year-old said he did not know how long he would be staying in Germany, where he has been reunited with family members. But he said he had been granted a one-year visa.

Asked if he would return to Russia, he said he had no guarantee that if he did, he would be allowed to leave again.

LISTEN: Podcast -- The Pardon Heard Around The World

German Help

Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia’s richest man, pleaded not guilty in his two trials.

His supporters called the prosecutions politically motivated by Putin to punish Khodorkovsky for his support of opposition movements and challenges to the Kremlin.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a veteran German diplomat who served as foreign minister through the collapse of the Soviet Union, negotiated with Russian authorities to organize Khodorkovsky’s transfer from prison to Berlin.

Alexander Rahr, a German political scientist of Russian descent, assisted Genscher, including with translation.
Khodorkovsky meets his mother Marina in Berlin on December 21.
Khodorkovsky meets his mother Marina in Berlin on December 21.

Rahr told Russian-language RTVi television that "secret" German diplomacy had played a key role in Khodorkovsky’s release.

Rahr also said he had been able to spend some time with Khodorkovsky after he flew into Berlin.

"His mood is very enthusiastic, his eyes are glowing, he wants to speak, and speak, and speak," Rahr said. "And he has things to say. He is extremely pragmatic about the situation in Russia, he is extremely pragmatic about the situation in the world, and he is very interested in it."

Putin has described the early release as a humanitarian gesture, saying Khodorkovsky had sought a pardon because of the illness of his mother, who has received treatment in Germany.

Khodorkovsky has said he asked Putin for a pardon for family reasons -- but has denied suggestions this was tantamount to admitting guilt for financial crimes.

Khodorkovsky was scheduled to be released in eight months, in August 2014. But reports say he also faced the threat of the authorities bringing a third criminal case against him, which could have prolonged his imprisonment.

Some analysts have linked his release to an effort by the Kremlin to improve Russia’s image as world attention turns to the country for the Olympic Games in February in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Western governments have cautiously welcomed Khodorkovsky’s release. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, for example, applauded the move, but urged Russia to implement reforms to halt what he called "due process violations and selective prosecution."

With reporting from Reuters and AFP
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