A Russian court announced that former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky should be released from prison in 2014, taking two years off the jail sentence for Russia’s richest man.
Khodorkovsky, who ran the Yukos oil company, has been behind bars since 2003, after being convicted on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement. It is widely believed that he was targeted because he disregarded an implicit deal with President Vladimir Putin that the so-called “oligarchs” could keep their fortunes as long as they did not meddle in politics.
During his time in prison, Khodorkovsky has undergone something of a transformation, going from dubious businessman to darling of the opposition, penning a number of thoughtful articles and letters on the future of Russia.
Many now believe he could become a credible figurehead under which the opposition to Mr Putin could unite upon his release. As such, yesterday’s announcement that his sentence has been cut came as a surprise.
Mr Putin denied that he had interfered in any of the court decisions to do with Khodorkovsky. “There was no personal persecution,” he said. “This is purely an economic crime. The court made its decision.”
Even as there was good news for Khodorkovsky, Russian investigators brought new charges against the man widely believed to have the best chances of any opposition leader of posing a real threat to Mr Putin in the medium-term future yesterday. Alexey Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption blogger who has been one of the leaders of recent street protests against Mr Putin’s rule, was charged yesterday along with his brother Oleg of orchestrating a scheme to cheat the Russian postal service of 55m roubles (£1.1m). He has already been charged with stealing from a state timber company, and if found guilty could potentially face a lengthy jail term.
Mr Navalny denies all the charges and says he is being targeted for his opposition activity and anti-corruption investigations.