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Friday, December 20, 2013

Statement From Khodorkovsky in Berlin Answers Some Questions, but Not All

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at left, shaking hands with the former German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, at the airport in Berlin on Friday.Khodorkovsky.ru Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at left, shaking hands with the former German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, at the airport in Berlin on Friday.

Updated, 3:55 p.m. | Hours after his sudden release from prison on Friday, the Russian dissident Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky released a statement from Berlin, along with an image of himself being greeted at the airport by Hans-Dietrich Genscher, a former German foreign minister who helped arrange his travel, as my colleagues Steven Lee Myers and David M. Herszenhorn report.

Here is the complete English translation of the statement from Mr. Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia’s richest man, but was jailed on corruption charges after he appeared to break an agreement not to challenge the political power of President Vladimir V. Putin:

On Nov. 12, I asked the president of Russia to pardon me due to my family situation, and I am glad his decision was positive.

The issue of admission of guilt was not raised.

I would like to thank everyone who has been following the Yukos case all these years for the support you provided to me, my family and all those who were unjustly convicted and continue to be persecuted. I am very much looking forward to the minute when I will be able to hug my close ones and personally shake hands with all my friends and associates.

I am constantly thinking of those who continue to remain imprisoned.

My special thanks is to Mr. Hans-Dietrich Genscher for his personal participation in my fate.

First of all I am going to repay my debt to my parents, my wife and my children, and I am very much looking forward to meeting them.

I will welcome the opportunity to celebrate this upcoming holiday season with my family. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Russian president’s office confirmed that Mr. Putin had signed the pardon freeing Mr. Khodorkovsky on humanitarian grounds, said to be his mother’s illness, in a statement posted on official Kremlin websites.

In an essay for The New York Times published last month, Mr. Khodorkovsky revealed that his mother, who has struggled with cancer since the age of 45, “is now nearly 80 years old and again facing cancer and more surgeries.”

As Julia Ioffe reported for The New Republic from Moscow, “In all of the excitement, there are scores of unanswered questions.” To begin with, neither of the statements explained the conditions of the amnesty. “To get a presidential pardon in Russia,” Ms. Ioffe noted, “you have to admit your guilt, which Khodorkovsky has insisted for years he would not do.” According to Mr. Khodorkovsky, “The issue of admission of guilt was not raised,” during what one account in the Russian press said were secret negotiations conducted at the remote prison colony that the dissident’s lawyers were not invited to attend.

Ms. Ioffe also explained that it was unclear why Mr. Khodorkovsky had struck a deal for freedom that left Platon Lebedev, his co-defendant “in jail as a sort of hostage for his good behavior.”

The Agence France-Presse correspondent Maria Antonova noted that Mr. Khodorkovsky’s sudden dispatch to Germany, in “a special operation kept in secret from relatives and lawyers and looking more like exile or spy swap harking of the Soviet times,” raised still more questions. Mr. Khodorkovsky’s statement, she observed, “did not explain the reasons behind his quick dash to Germany, a country with which he has no special connection and where neither his friends or associates can be found.”

Although the Russian authorities initially said that Mr. Khodorkovsky was sent to Germany to be with his mother, who has undergone cancer treatment there, journalists quickly discovered that she is currently not in Berlin, but at her home outside Moscow.

Aleksei Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger who now leads the opposition to Mr. Putin’s rule, noted on Twitter that another activist was sentenced to three years in jail on Friday just as Mr. Khodorkovsky’s release was dominating headlines, apparently confirming that what one observer called Russia’s “law of conservation of prisoners” remained a constant.

The activist sentenced on Friday, A.F.P. reported, was Evgeny Vitishko, a geologist who was accused of damaging a fence during research by an environmental group into the impact of construction for the Sochi Olympic Games. According to Mr. Vitishko’s environmental group, the fence was illegal, since it was built around the home of the regional governor in a public forest to conceal the unlicensed logging of protected species there.

Even Mr. Khodorkovsky’s son Pavel, who lives in New York, said he was taken by surprise by what looked like his father’s sudden deportation to Germany.

In an interview with BBC News in October, a decade after his father’s arrest, Pavel Khodorkovsky had explained that his father planned to leave Russia if he was released at the end of his prison term in August, 2014.

Video of Pavel Khodorkovsky speaking to BBC News in October about his father’s detention.

“What I do know for myself,” the younger Mr. Khodorkovsky said, “is that it’s going to be my first priority and my most important job to try and convince him to leave Russia, because I haven’t seen him for ten years, he has never seen my daughter. We need to reunite our family and the most important thing for me is to make sure nothing stands in the way of that.” Recalling a recent conversation with his father, the former oligarch’s son added, “He said, ‘I have a lot of debts that I need to pay to my family.’”

Close observers of Russian-German relations noted that there was a third man seen in the background of the photograph showing Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Genscher shaking hands on the tarmac of Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport.

That man appeared to be Alexander Rahr, a former member of Germany’s Council on Foreign Relations described earlier this year by Der Spiegel as a prominent advocate of closer relations with Russia.

Mr. Rahr, the author of an early biography of Russia’s president titled “The German in the Kremlin,” now advises the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce and a German energy company that is working with the Russian state oil firm Gazprom. He is also a member of the Valdai Club, a group of experts first brought together in 2004 by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti for a series of discussion aimed at “fostering a global dialogue about Russia.” Mr. Putin, who recently dissolved RIA as part of a reorganization of state media to focus more on putting Russia in a positive light abroad, took part in the Valdai Club’s most recent meeting, in September.

In an interview with RIA Novosti during a Valdai Club meeting in 2011, Mr. Rahr said: “What do we expect from Russia? Of course, foremost, stability.” He added, “A country like Germany, from which I come, is very interested in economic partnership and strategic partnership, in an energy alliance with Russia, and our end goal is to build a joint free-trade zone, a joint economic cooperation zone, between the European Union and the Russian Federation.”

Video of Alexander Rahr speaking to the Russian state news agency RI Novosti in 2011.

He concluded: “I think that Europe is only stronger if the European Union and Russia find a common way how to build this common European house together.”

Readers who want to know more about the background to Mr. Khodorkovsky’s dramatic transformation from oil magnate to jailed dissident can read an essay on his case published by the Russian-American writer Keith Gessen writer in the London Review of Books in 2010 or watch a documentary released the next year by the German filmmaker Cyril Tuschi, which is available for download.

The trailer for the documentary “Khodorkovsky,” relesed in 2011.