MOSCOW (AFP) – Ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in jail after challenging the Kremlin, openly stated his political
ambitions on Saturday by announcing he would be ready, if called upon, to lead Russia in times of crisis.
By publicly voicing his readiness to take on the country’s top job, the man who was once Russia’s richest appears to have broken a promise to steer clear of politics which he made after being pardoned by President Vladimir Putin in December.
“I would not be interested in the idea of becoming president of Russia at a time when the country would be developing normally,” he was quoted as saying by Le Monde newspaper.
“But if it appeared necessary to overcome the crisis and to carry out constitutional reform, the essence of which would be to redistribute presidential powers in favour of the judiciary, parliament and civil society, then I would be ready to take on this part of the task.”
The comments were made as Khodorkovsky, 51, launched an online movement dubbed Open Russia to unite pro-European Russians in a bid to challenge Putin’s grip on power.
“A minority will be influential if it is organised,” he said during a ceremony broadcast online from Paris.
Khodorkovsky and his allies said political change could come quickly and insisted the time had come to think of Russia’s future after Putin.
Khodorkovsky stressed that his project – named after his eponymous charity that was shut down after his imprisonment – would be an online “platform” for like-minded people, not a political party.
The Kremlin is still likely to find the project unsavoury, said the photogenic ex-tycoon sporting closely-cropped hair and a casual shirt.
“I expect him to be upset,” Khodorkovsky said, referring to his nemesis Putin.
Russian activists and prominent emigres including Paris-based economist Sergei Guriyev and London-based businessman Yevgeny Chichvarkin – both of whom fled the country under pressure from security services – joined the online ceremony.
Khodorkovsky, who lives in Switzerland with his family, openly supported a Ukrainian uprising that ousted a Moscow-backed president in February, but indicated he did not want a bloody revolt for Russia.
The soft-spoken former head of the defunct Yukos oil firm – who according to his allies was jailed for opposing the Kremlin – said all those supporting a pro-European course for Russia should unite ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 2016.
Some analysts said they were surprised by Khodorkovsky’s declaration of political ambitions.