Agency . Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man before he fell foul of the Kremlin, said on Friday that only revolution would topple Vladimir Putin, and he expected the Kremlin chief to crack down further on dissent at home after invading Ukraine.
Khodorkovsky, who under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s became one of Russia’s most powerful oligarchs, said he doubted that the Russian people supported the invasion.
“I am in absolute shock from what has taken place,” Khodorkovsky said of the invasion on a video call with reporters. At times he appeared to be close to tears.
As he spoke, Russian missiles were raining down on Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv and families cowered in shelters as Russian forces pressed their offensive. [USN:L1N2V001F]
Khodorkovsky, 58, said Putin wanted to take Ukraine, destroy its defences and install a “puppet government” in Kyiv. The West should help Ukraine, including by arming its people, or it will face a long, and potentially bloody, occupation, he said.
“The screws will be tightened” on dissent within Russia too, Khodorkovsky added.
“Changing the Putin regime through democratic means cannot happen; change can come exclusively through revolution – either revolution from above or revolution from below,” he said.
“A revolution is possible either as the result of a military defeat or when Putin passes away,” he said.
He cast the 69-year-old Putin, Russia’s paramount leader since 1999, as a “dictator” who was living in a tightly controlled “information bubble” and who constantly needed to prove himself to his entourage.
Russian officials dismiss such criticism and point to Putin’s repeated electoral victories and polling which shows he remains popular. Putin has said Khodorkovsky is a criminal.
Khodorkovsky was convicted of tax evasion and fraud in 2005 in a Moscow trial which he said was motivated by enemies who wanted to rip apart his oil and gas company YUKOS and punish him for his political ambitions. He always denied the charges.
YUKOS was crippled with massive back-tax claims and then its main Siberian oil production units were sold off by the state, only to be bought later by state-controlled firms.
Khodorkovsky was pardoned by Putin in 2013 and left Russia.
He dismissed speculation that Putin was behaving irrationally over Ukraine, but said the Russian leader appeared to doubt the loyalty of some in his entourage.
He pointed to how Putin had chastised foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin before television cameras on Feb. 21.
Asked if Putin would go further than Ukraine, Khodorkovsky said: “I am convinced that if Putin achieves his aims in Ukraine then he will want to punish someone else later.”