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Khodorkovsky, the richest Russian, challenges President Putin. A fight of the titans begins. Putin warns him. But Khodorkovsky comes back to Russia knowing that he will be imprisoned, once he returns. When I heard about it, I asked myself: why didn't he stay in exile with a couple of billions? Why did he do that? A personal journey to Khodorkovsky. Written by
In 2003, Russian oil magnate Mikhael Khodorkovsky was arrested on charges of fraud by the Putin government. The owner of oil giant Yukos, one of the largest companies to emerge from the privatisation of Russian state assets during the 1990s, Khodorkovsky later had a prominent and public role as a financier of the Russian opposition in the 2000s. Quickly found guilty, the oligarch was sentenced to nine years in prison, later extended to twelve. From prison, Khodorkovsky has waged a campaign in Western media to raise awareness of the injustice of his incarceration and the corruption of the Russian political system that permitted such a turn of events.
Cyril Tuschi's 'Khodorkovsky' is part-biopic, part-criminal investigation, seeking to uncover (against substantial odds) both who the real Khodorkovsky was and whether his well-publicised trial was political posturing on the behest of Putin or an accurate reflection of the murky dealings of the Russian oil industry - an industry borne out of the questionable auctions of the Yeltsin government in the 1990s. Khodorkovsky, in a manner similar to his fellow oligarchs, acquired Yukos in 1995 at one such state auction, paying well below the market value. Soon acquiring a reputation for being a perennial corporate governance abuser, Yukos (and its billionaire owner) underwent a volte face at the turn of the millennium. As it's transparency began to encourage immediate investment. the share price saw a swift upward turn. Simultaneously, on the advice of an American PR firm, Khodorkovsky launched "Open Russia', investing $100 million in Russian education projects. By 2002, Khodorkovsky was both the world's richest man under 40 and the symbol for sound civic governance in a Russia still blighted by corruption and inequality.
Though rich and powerful enough to brush shoulders with the oil magnates of the world, Khodorkovsky's mistake was to take that attitude, that perceived arrogance, and impose it upon a Russian political elite not yet ready to accept their subservience to the new business elite. Specifically, Khodorkovsky butted heads with Putin, ignoring the President's plea for the select group of oil oligarchs to stay out of state politics entirely; associating himself closely with the opposition to Putin's iron-fisted rule, Khodorkovsky emerged as a powerful motor to the campaign offering a increasingly popular alternative. His days were numbered.
Though no saint himself, Khodorkovsky's arrest and incarceration emerge as a representation of everything still wrong with Russian politics. The cronyism expected of the Russian oligarchs in return for ease of operation betray the long road left to transparency, for which Putin remains a sturdy barrier. For as long as he remains behind bars (and Putin remains in power), Khodorkovsky may question his decision to return to Russia (many others sought exile around the same time), but there is hope that he will use the experience to justify a run for office once released. Until then, he waits.