In move meant to improve Russia's international image ahead of 2014 Winter Olympics, Russian president says he will pardon Jewish former mogul Mikhail Khodorkovsky after a decade in jail • Khodorkovsky is considered one of the Kremlin's harshest critics.
Dan Lavie, Boaz Bismuth and News Agencies
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a press conference after announcing Mikhail Khodorkovsky's release
Photo credit: AP
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a critic of the Kremlin
Photo credit: Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday that he intends to pardon former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has spent more than a decade behind bars and was scheduled to be released in August 2014.
The Jewish ex-mogul is considered one of the Kremlin's harshest critics, and has become Russia's most famous political prisoner. Putin's move has been described as one meant to improve Moscow's image ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi in February.
According to Agence France Presse, the announcement of his potential release ahead of schedule could finally draw the curtain on the most notorious legal case in post-Soviet Russian history.
Khodorkovsky's imprisonment over embezzlement and fraud convictions, which included a stint in a Siberian jail, has become a symbol of the erosion of human rights under Putin.
Putin revealed after his marathon annual news conference that Khodorkovsky, 50, had for the first time written a request for a pardon, citing humanitarian circumstances over his mother's recent illness.
"I think given the circumstances we can take the decision and very soon the decree to pardon him will be signed," Putin said in televised comments.
Khodorkovsky's legal team and even his mother said they did not know if the former oil tycoon, who has been in prison since 2003, had actually appealed for clemency, but Putin's spokesman said the request had been personally signed by him.
Putin said that under Russian law a convict had to request a pardon before obtaining one, adding that Khodorkovsky had not done so until now.
"He did not do this and then quite recently he wrote such a document and addressed me with a request for a pardon," the Russian president said. "He has already been in detention more than 10 years. This is a serious punishment and he is referring to humanitarian circumstances as his mother is ill."
In September, Khodorkovsky was awarded the Lech Walesa award for promoting human rights.
The Walesa award board said that Khodorkovsky was recognized for "courage in promoting civil society values," building foundations of economic freedom and his "unwavering struggle for justice and human dignity."
According to media reports, the pardon coincides with the release of two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot, as well as 30 environmental activists.
In his press conference Thursday, Putin also addressed various other issues. Commenting on Russia’s economic deal with Ukraine, Putin said it was motivated by "brotherhood" rather than political hostility to Europe.
"This has nothing to do with Maidan [the protests in Kiev] or the European Union, we just see that Ukraine is in trouble and we want to help them. We must act like close relatives and help this nation," he said.
He also said that no decision had been made on whether to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad, Russia's westernmost outpost, between Poland and Lithuania -- in response the U.S. deployment of missile defense systems in Europe.
Moscow's rumored plans to deploy missiles caused concern in Washington, but Putin said: "Let no one worry -- we have not done this yet."