Mikhail Khodorkovsky in California told whose Crimea and what will stop Putin - ForumDaily
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Mikhail Khodorkovsky in California told whose Crimea and what will stop Putin

A Russian businessman and oppositionist arrived at Stanford University with a seminar. He told mostly Russian-speaking public about the future of Russia and how naive dreamers can change it. He also streamlined answers to questions and flashed knowledge of the movie "Back to the Future."

Finding a parking place near the Center for Democracy at Stanford was almost impossible. On this day, Mikhail Khodorkovsky spoke here. The former head of the Yukos oil company spent ten years in prison on charges of fraud, was pardoned by Putin due to family circumstances - and he came to California.

Near the building's elevator, the author encounters a girl speaking Russian. While talking, we reach a fork in the road. It is unclear where to go next. “Turn to the right,” another girl shouts from behind. The concentration of Russian speakers at Stanford increases as one approaches the Center for Democracy.

The hall, designed for 700 people, is packed. There are about ten thousand people on the waiting list. Registration closed 10 days before the event. During the workshop itself, video and audio recording, flash photography, and large bags and posters are prohibited.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky came on the scene accompanied by former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who now teaches at Stanford. He immediately tells one of the diplomatic secrets about the guest:

“We usually ciphered Mikhail Borisovich as an interbank loan — these are his initials so that the president does not have to pronounce his difficult last name.”


Khodorkovsky acted in Russian. Most of the audience understood him perfectly, but just in case there was a translation into English.

From the second row, the performance of the former prisoner was listened to by his son Pavel, who lives in New York, opened the Institute of Modern Russia there, and also deals with energy-saving technologies.

“Here in Palo Alto, people are creating the future every day. I have no doubt that my country, too, will soon stop living in the past and begin to move towards well-being and prosperity.

So Mikhail Khodorkovsky began his presentation at the seminar, which was symbolically called "Russia: Back to the Future."

Light humor, lulling tone and soft intonations expressed the desire of the Russian guest to maximally soften the aggressive image of the oil magnate attributed to him in the Western press.

Despite the fact that Amnesty International called Khodorkovsky a prisoner of conscience, the European Court of Human Rights did not recognize the Yukos case as politically motivated.

The theme of the future was the keynote of Khodorkovsky’s speech. It even reached the direct allusions with the cult film of the end of 80's “Back to the Future”.

— When I was released, I, of course, wanted to see another country. From the future you expect not only technological progress, but also social progress. But the feeling was different. It was somewhat reminiscent of what the hero from the movie “Back to the Future” felt when he found himself in an alternative Hill Valley in 1985. Russia in 2015 is ruled single-handedly by a typical Biff Tannen, surrounded by a group of kleptocrats. And the residents - not just of a city, but of a large country - who understand what is really happening, are unable to do anything to oppose the massive propaganda, police and crime.

The business, further led by Khodorkovsky, became disillusioned with today's Russia. “The authorities taught, specifically taught the society to hate business independent from the state. People in Russia have been taught that political competition is instability, but absolute stability exists only in the cemetery, ”the businessman joked sadly.

According to Khodorkovsky, when it became clear to 2010-2011 that Putin would not leave anywhere and should not expect independent courts and political competition, entrepreneurs began to flee Russia. He cited the numbers: in five years from 2003 to 2008, capital outflows amounted to $ 10 billion. In 2010, 2014 is already $ 383 billion or almost 40 times.

Obviously, the opposition himself made his own contribution to this process. Recently, the Russian "Forbes" found assets of Khodorkovsky in the USA on 2 billion dollars.

Further on in the course of his speech, Khodorkovsky promised to help those who, in the elections to the State Duma in 2016, will be able to show a democratic alternative to the current regime in Russia.

The low ratings of the opposition do not deprive him of optimism:

We often hear talk that the opposition in Russia has no chance that this is just an impossible dream. Notice that the whole history of mankind was made by those who dreamed.

- If you remember the great Americans - Thomas Jefferson or, say, Martin Luther King - their dreams also seemed unrealistic, but they believed, and as a result they won. The same can be said about our Soviet dissidents. Many of them were considered by their contemporaries to be naive dreamers. And then - once, and there is no Soviet power.

Hall at Stanford was full, on the waiting list - 10 thousands of people. Photo by Julia Bunyak

The hall at Stanford was full, there were 10 thousand people on the waiting list. Photo by Yulia Bunyak

“So why can’t anyone stop Putin?” – an elderly woman asked a question from the audience. Khodorkovsky thought for a second. “There were many examples of such regimes in the world. When people looked at the situation from the inside, it seemed to them that it could not be stopped. But then time passed—very little in the historical dimension—and everything dissolved. This will be the case in this case as well,” he said.

Khodorkovsky almost all questions answered streamlined, avoiding open criticism of Putin or harsh statements.

Recently, his statement that he would not return the Crimea to Ukraine, even if he became president of Russia, caused a storm of emotions and discussions. At Stanford, he remembered it. “A lot of people asked me to ask a question. Whose Crimea? ”, Nikolai Belogorsky, president of the Nova Ukraine charity organization, asked Khodorkovsky in the forehead.

In response, Khodorkovsky recalled his post on Twitter, where he posted an interview with Putin on 2008 of the year. In it, the Russian leader declared that the Crimea "is not a disputed territory," and Moscow "has long recognized the borders of today's Ukraine."

“Putin said that Crimea is Ukrainian. Well, what can I say... If the president thinks so, I can’t argue with the president...” said the oppositionist.

The politician said the last words already to the audience’s laughter. People liked this Khodorkovsky. Applause sounded almost every 5 minutes during the entire hour and a half performance.

Forum asked Khodorkovsky about the prospects for ending the Russian-Ukrainian war. “I really want Ukraine to be successful. For Russia, this example would be very significant. If Ukraine is successful, democracy in Russia will be established faster and with less bloodshed,” he replied.

Michael McFaul took the last word. He himself answered his own question: why did Putin release Khodorkovsky? “When he released, he thought he was releasing a broken man. But these hour and a half at Stanford showed that this is not so,” the former ambassador concluded.

Khodorkovsky also left to the applause.

opposition California Khodorkovsky Crimea Putin Our people Stanford Editor's Choice
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