Khodorkovsky on Putin, and U.S. sanctions: “In the Kremlin are fantastic idiots”

In exile in London mobile phone is the most important tool of Mikhail Khodorkovsky to communicate with the world, where he can’t come to Russia. Formerly the richest man in Russia today, Forbes estimates his fortune at $ 500 million — he writes letters, reads with alarm the news: in Moscow detained activists of the movement “Open Russia”.

Vladimir Putin pardoned former oligarch in 2013 and released it on freedom. That is, it again can move freely — just the way back Home he ordered. While trying to enter the country he could face arrest. The authorities had collected material for a new case against him — the third process.

In Moscow, however, it is still present. “Open Russia” maintains contacts with other opposition groups in the parliamentary elections of 2016 Khodorkovsky has supported candidates from the ranks of the enemy of the Kremlin. Intellectuals respected him, perhaps even more than Alexei Navalny, a young opposition politician who supports the youth.

In the spring of Khodorkovsky stood up for the Bulk, even if some moments he considers skeptical. He believes the intransigent Navalny against Kremlin officials and elite wrong. Need to keep open the bridges to the part of the apparatus of power, the opposition needs allies if it wants to succeed and after Putin — to restore the separation of powers.

Spiegel Online: the US has imposed sanctions against Moscow over alleged Russian interference in American elections. The Federal government speaks of a “trade war”, because the affected may be the project “Northern stream — 2”. How do you consider these sanctions?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: From the US perspective, it is understandable and politically necessary step. Of course, American law has a business projection. Americans firmly believe that you have definitely a promising product in the form of liquefied natural gas — and want to prepare for it markets in Europe.

— How much do the sanctions affect Russia?

— A ban on the export of technology to Russian drilling projects they block Russia profitable development of the Arctic continental shelf for at least a decade. We are unable one night to learn how to build boreholes.

— The Russian government miscalculated?

— It gave Americans a reason for this step. How stupid you have to be to interfere in the American elections? In the twenty-first century technological sanctions could condemn our nation to a decade of stagnation. Fantastic idiots!

— Vladimir Putin’s popularity has not suffered because of the sanctions imposed in 2014 because of the Ukrainian crisis. Will us sanctions otherwise?

— For the Russian society punishment is a further reason to rally around the leader against the “eternal enemy, American imperialism.”


— Soon there will be elections to the Bundestag. Germany should prepare for attacks from Russia in the form of hackers or fake news?

— A sharp American reaction should lower the willingness of Putin’s inner circle to such maneuvers. On the other hand, in such operations involved a lot of people. They got ready and they expect to make money these orders. The likelihood of such attacks remains high.

— Many Russians apply to You is critical. In 90-e years, You have benefited from privatization, have made billions and had political influence. You shouldn’t have to do more to reconcile the Russians with democracy and a market economy?

— When in our country — the USSR — began the reform, I was 24 years old. I never thought that I would be responsible to teach people who were older than me and more experienced. I did something that made many young people my age. I was trying to pave the way for the future — for me, for my friends who were about 20 years old. We did it rather easily.


— Many Russians believe You and other entrepreneurs, those who benefited from the crisis.

— I was not clear how much was due to the fact that we managed to adapt better than others. The older generation in Russia then was very different from their peers in other Eastern bloc countries such as East Germany. There are people still remembered what was “market”. In contrast, after 70 years of communism, two or three generations did not understand what was happening. We boys, in turn, did not understand that used their ignorance.

— When You got it?

— When in 1998, Russia was gripped by a severe economic crisis. The ruble lost against the dollar for three quarters of its value, the price of oil fell. Suddenly we were all in a situation when you do not understand what is happening around. Then I made a decision to establish his Foundation “Open Russia”, which from that time holds a social work.

— In Soviet times You were a member of Komsomol. As the left turn from the younger generation in the vanguard of the capitalists?

The Komsomol was definitely not an ideological organization. In the 80s it was more of a scout. He gave young people the opportunity to assert themselves. Party, the factories and the government used the Komsomol as a reservoir to find people with organizational skills. In General, the USSR in the Soviet period was much less ideological than, say, East Germany. The repetition of Communist installations — then it was more of the rituals that were to be carried out. In everyday life, they often aroused ridicule.

— After the Soviet collapse, President Boris Yeltsin and his advisors chose the path of radical privatization. Huge state of the company was quickly sold for a low price. Then you bought the oil group YUKOS for $ 300 million.

In a market economy, the market determines what is appropriate and what is not. I then spoke with Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais, who was responsible for privatization. They said that there is only a small period of time, politically, to privatize. In addition, in political terms, it was impossible to sell important state companies to foreign investors.

— That is, everything was done correctly?

I was warned about the two radical errors. On the one hand, many of the industrial conglomerates were divided and sold individually. Individually, many could not survive. This has led to huge losses of the Russian economy. The second mistake was to give citizens shares in the companies — at a time when only a small number of people understood the value of these securities. Even in Germany today, many people are afraid of investing in shares. In Russia in 90-e years were not institutions that would allow people to trade these shares.

— What was the alternative?

— Then it was about how to tie a large part of these shares to the funds. This decision for reasons unknown to me, has not been implemented. All these actions quickly appeared on the market and was purchased by a small group of people. It was one of the mistakes of the government, which I have used.

— You now regret it?

— Yes and no. We destroyed people’s faith in the fairness of the market. But the production network no longer existed. Oil production declined sharply. In 1995, it was discussed that Russia will have to import oil for their own needs. One reason for the problems was the fact that the old Soviet leaders, companies managers, but had business talent. The most important decisions in the Soviet era was taken at a higher level. On the market these Directors is crushed. How could they replace a business? Besides privatization, the government found no other way.

— Your group YUKOS after your arrest in 2003 was nationalized, government corporations have 60% of Russian economic output. Experts such as former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin in this respect, the second wave of privatization. Isn’t this in connection with the hidden anger of the population unrealizable plan?

— If today I organized the sale of public corporations, I would have transferred some of the pension funds, which then would be recorded on individual pension accounts of citizens. In the case of Yukos and I conducted this experiment and transferred 10% of the shares in a private pension Fund of employees. I believe if such a system functioned for the past ten years, the population’s attitude to private ownership would have changed.

— How would You describe the economic policy of Putin?

— Putin is more liberal in his fiscal policy — and yet absolutely anti-liberal in terms of formation of structure of the Russian economy.

— What do You mean?

— Low inflation and low budget deficit — the two principles of Putin, who like many Western economists. However, increasing the influence of state corporations. Putin believes it is a good step, because in his eyes this improves handling of the economy, the influence of the Kremlin. Those who do not, so stay on the side of efficiency and innovation.

— Why did Putin act?

In Putin’s view, freedom is chaos, dirt roads and dilapidated houses. In his view, to get something maybe only if the people March in lockstep in the ranks. It is a feature of military thinking and of the Soviet man. It is important to understand that Putin and the Russians does not impose anything. He reflects rather the views of the citizenry. At least, until now, been so.

— What do You mean?

— Young people in Russia today are significantly different from their parents ‘ generation. Young Russians are much more independent handling of daily freedom. They are generally not used to the fact that they state that prohibits something to read or watch.

Three years ago You suddenly released, with the mediation of the former Minister of foreign Affairs Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who is no longer alive. How you use your freedom?

I’m trying to help his country overcome the current stage of counter-reforms conducted by the President Vladimir Putin.

— How You want to end the Putin era?

I wouldn’t call it the era of Putin. It is rather the time in which due to the rapid change of the 90-ies of the jaded society aggressively look for improvements. Russian society, which feels humiliated, trying to regain self — esteem- often alien ways, by confrontation with other countries. To this end, there are two ways. You can help people to accept the reality, the way things are.

— A second option?

— The natural process of alternation of generations. Young Russians already view the world differently than their parents. But with young people need to work. Because our government started to feed the youth with the myth that Russia is surrounded by enemies, that our history is shining without shadow sides. In schools banned all books except one. That is, our task is to fight against the myths and try to explain to people that the current rate there is an alternative.

— That the majority of Russians understand by the concept of freedom?

— Many of the concepts we have distorted the meaning. We have a democracy — a curse. “Liberal” is considered a particularly dirty curse. Freedom according to this logic — something suspicious. It is understood as the ability to do anything, without regard for others.