In 2003, when Khodorkovsky was head of the oil giant Yukos and reputed to have a personal fortune of some $15 billion, he showed up at a Kremlin meeting without a tie (seen as a sign of disrespect) and confronted Putin in front of everybody there: “Mr. President, your officials are bribe takers and thieves.” Since then, it is said, Putin has never forgiven Khodorkovsky for that declaration, despite the fact—or because of it—that many people believe it to be true.
From 2003 to 2013, the erstwhile oligarch was locked in Russian prisons and prison camps for alleged tax evasion and theft. Then, five years ago, Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky, and the former oil tycoon left Russia on the first day of his freedom, joining the large population of exiled Russian businessmen here in “Londongrad” who hope that one day the Russian regime will “fall apart.”
…In the interview with The Daily Beast, Khodorkovsky noted that President Putin has never seen war with his own eyes. “His aides let him watch too many war movies, he has not seen real war, which this time would mean blood and death all over the planet.”
…In Russia, dozens of opposition activists have been arrested, interrogated, beaten, imprisoned. Khodorkovsky said he expected more arrests to come after the vote two weeks away, but his Open Russia Foundation’s group of human-rights defenders and lawyers will provide legal support to Russian political dissidents.
Khodorkovsky is well aware that other critics and opponents of Putin have been killed under highly suspicious circumstances, not only in Russia, but, in one infamous case, here in “Londongrad.”
…In Russia, Anna Politkovskaya, an award-winning independent journalist for Novaya Gazeta, was assassinated in her apartment building a month before Litvinenko was poisoned in London. In 2015 President Putin’s most passionate critic, Boris Nemtsov, was shot four times in the back right outside of the Kremlin’s wall. His assassins are in prison but the mastermind behind his assassination has never been brought to trial.
…Hundreds of thousands of educated Russians, including successful businessmen, flee Russia every year. According to the Atlantic Council, about 1.8 million Russian citizens emigrated in the period between 2000 and 2014.
…Khodorkovsky said that he is convinced that opening and closing of criminal cases in Russia was pure business, like the “indulgences” offered by the church: “It has nothing to do with groveling before Putin, Titov is trying to make a new deal with exiled businessmen, assure them that their cases would be closed now, and then later they would pay the system,” Khodorkovsky told The Daily Beast.
But “when the first Russian businessman got arrested upon his arrival,” said Khodorkovsky, “it became obvious to us in London, that nobody in Russia had a huge desire to let Titov change the rules of the market [and] there are no illusions left that the criminal charges against businessmen on the list would be dropped.”
Two Republican senators have called off a planned trip to Russia after the Kremlin denied a visa to a Democratic colleague, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Shaheen, an outspoken backer of a Russia sanctions bill that Congress approved overwhelmingly earlier this year, had been scheduled to visit Russia along with GOP colleagues Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Barrasso of Wyoming. But a Shaheen spokesman said the senator believes the Kremlin has placed her under a travel sanction, prohibiting her visit.
Despite its intentions, the campaign has highlighted the dilemma facing Russian professional athletes living in the United States who support Putin. Several Russian hockey players, including those who have not publicly signed on to Ovechkin’s initiative, declined interview requests. Malkin waited five days after pledging his support on social media to answer questions about the campaign.
…One U.S.-based hockey agent who represents Russian players in North America said of Ovechkin’s initiative: “All of my clients, everybody’s rolling their eyes, basically, saying, ‘What the [heck]?’ It’s like he’s lobbying for a job in politics.”
…A person close to Ovechkin explained that he tries to navigate a delicate tightrope, supporting one country while trying not to offend the other, and that the PutinTeam initiative has underscored the innate difficulties he faces.
“If he played in Carolina, this probably wouldn’t be as interesting to some people as it probably is, just given where he lives and works and what he does,” said the Ovechkin associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could talk more freely. “To say that Alex or anybody is following the daily nuances of really high-level, very complex geopolitical issues, they’re probably not doing that, right?”
…While the Capitals organization may not be eager to discuss Ovechkin’s relationship with Putin, team officials are aware that it could upset some fans. At the same time, they accept the demands being placed on him from Moscow and recognize the franchise has at times had to work around them, especially during the offseason.
…Kremlin observers explain that many Russian celebrities can face pressures both overt and indirect to take part in a Russian political campaign. For many, an endorsement might protect their families or help secure government funding for their projects. But most agree that Ovechkin probably is above such pressures — too rich, too high profile.