The Russia-Ukraine conflict has no short-term solution and is part of a fabricated conflict with the West to distract everyday Russians from corruption and incompetence, a prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky told an audience in Washington on June 17 that no real rapprochement with Russia was possible so long as Putin remained in charge.
Khodorkovsky was once Russia's richest man but is now living in exile after spending a decade in jail on what he and his supporters say were charges fabricated because of the political threat he posed to Putin.
U.S.-Russian ties are at their lowest point since the Cold War, and Russia's ruling elite fosters such isolation from the West as a tool to stay in power, Khodorkovsky said in his speech at the Atlantic Council think tank.
"The current confrontation with the West is absolutely artificial," he said, speaking through a translator.
"They desperately need an image of an enemy who would distract the attention of the populace from the corruption and inefficiency that exists."
Khodorkovsky used to own the mammoth Yukos oil company, which once produced as much oil as Qatar but is now defunct. He was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to nine years in jail on tax-fraud and embezzlement charges.
He ended up serving 10 years, and was released in late 2013 right before the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
He now lives in exile in Switzerland and leads a Moscow-based human rights group called Open Russia. It aims to discuss alternatives to Putin's rule and is heavily critical of his policies.
Khodorkovsky said he envisioned a post-Putin, Western-oriented Russia, although he did not discuss how the current government might fall.
The United States and the rest of the West must therefore prepare for some day gradually welcoming Russia into their fold, the dissident aid, and that will mean European Union and NATO membership for their former arch foe.
But for now, he said, Russia's conflict with Ukraine -- its annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian rebels in the east of Ukraine -- is here to stay, suggesting it might last as long as the division of North and South Korea.
"A freezing of the conflict is the only reasonable expectation," Khodorkovsky said.
While the United States has no choice but to remain engaged in Ukraine, he cautioned Washington against giving Kyiv weapons. He said most Russians already believe the conflict there is between Russia and the United States.
"This situation is going to keep on developing in this direction if arms start being shipped to Ukraine," he said.
"Then you have the question whether the United States is ready to step into the conflict and to win, because if it is not ready for that, this will be interpreted as America having lost."
With on reporting by Reuters and AFP