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Exiled Oligarch and Former Russian Prisoner Believes the Conflict in Ukraine Will Demolish Putin’s Regime

As the Russian attacks inside Ukraine are being condemned, watched, and discussed around the world, the oligarchs of Russia are on the run. With many of them losing the planes, yachts, and other assets their unethical business dealings have brought them, one of the exiled ones has a far different outlook, at least from President Vladimir Putin’s, on how this Russian aggression will play out.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was once Russia’s richest man. After building his wealth as the former chief executive officer of the infamously large Russian oil giant Yukos, he found himself heading to prison in 2005 for tax evasion. This crime had him facing a nine-year sentence but saw him serving only eight years before his release in 2013. Despite his reported $15 billion in wealth in 2003, his money was unable to buy his way out of trouble.

Much like in his own circumstances, he now believes Putin may have bitten off more than he can chew. Speaking with CNN, Khodorkovsky outlined what he sees as Putin’s timeline. “I’m convinced that Putin hasn’t got much time left. Maybe a year, maybe three. Today we are no longer thinking in terms of him being around another decade as we thought a week ago.” This is a man who knows Putin, his policies, and his capabilities very well.

Mikhail Kasyanov evolved into a massive Kremlin critic following his time as Putin’s prime minister from 2000 to 2004. He saw firsthand what Putin did to Khodorkovsky as a result of his speaking up for the Russian people and opposing Putin. Speaking to a Moscow court back in 2010, he shared exactly why Putin was opposing him. “He said approximately the following: that YUKOS not only financed the (Western-leaning) Union of Right Forces and Yabloko parties, which he, President Putin, had permitted, but it also bankrolled the Communist party which he, President Putin, had not permitted.”

These actions put him toe-to-toe with Putin and his policies. He wanted to elicit change in Russia and bring an escape from the horrific treatment the Russian people were suffering. His commitment to changing the nation did not sit well with Putin or his policies. Putin wanted to see Yukos split up since it had deep ties with the Western allies, and he despised Khodorkovsky’s political ambitions.

While Putin denied any political motive behind the imprisonment of Khodorkovsky or the co-owner of Yukos, Platon Lebedev, the timing and message delivered with these arrests, prosecutions, and jail sentences made the truth clear as day. There was good reason to think politics had something to do with it, especially when Putin’s overall record against political foes was factored in. Much like Saddam Hussein, elections in Russia are largely just for appeasing the Western world and not to give the people a real voice in politics.

The Kennan Institute is a Russian research center based in the United States. Its researchers have been keeping a close eye on the situation as well. According to their various statements since the initial lead-up to the invasion and still today, they see the Ukraine invasion as possibly a last stand for Putin. They have not only condemned these actions, but they regard this as a mistake from which Putin will not be able to recover. Given the amount of attention his actions have attracted and how many countries are banding together to push sanctions against Russia, the government is certainly feeling the squeeze, and only Putin can be blamed. While he is leaning heavily on his claims of liberating parts of the country and removing neo-Nazis in Ukraine’s politics, his airstrikes on places such as hospitals and civilians send a vastly different message. 

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