Khodorkovsky tells Russians and Ukrainians to talk

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Moscow (AsiaNews) – As a relative calm prevails in Ukraine after the epic revolution in Maidan (Independence) Square and Russia’s clumsy showdown in the Crimea, the most interesting event was undoubtedly the ‘Mikhail Khodorkovsky show,’ as Russian media dubbed it, in Kyiv last week.

The former oligarch and oil magnate, now also Putin’s main former political prisoner, is the only Russian to have openly intervened in the Ukraine, since even Putin’s Russian soldiers dressed up as local anti-riot squads.

Overall, two months of tensions, riots, revolutions, coups and armed threats have not produced any significant figure who could truly meet the demands of insurgents, students, Ukrainians or Russians alike.

The other major former prisoner, Yulia Tymoshenko, a natural leader for the winning party of Ukraine’s revolution, appeared rather subdued and weak after her stay in prison. Unable to give any clear directions to her people, she merely called on Europe to get tough with Putin, preparing herself for a probable easy victory in the upcoming presidential election, for which she needs time to regain her physical strength and looks, perhaps in a clinic in Germany where Khodorkovsky is spending his part-time exile.

The former Yukos boss is Vladimir Putin’s historic adversary. In fifteen years of power, the Russian president has eliminated all other oligarchs, either by forcing them out of the country or buckle under his thumb. Russia’s strongman has also neutralised all of the country’s political institutions, be they political parties, parliament, or the various federal subjects whose autonomy he has taken away in the name of a “vertical of power”, the slogan he used at the start of the decade in order to undo the cheerful organised chaos of Yeltsin’s Russia.

Even the recent timid public meetings in Moscow, the so-called bolotnye (from Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square where people meet), produced only someone like blogger Alexei Navalny, an interesting and modern figure whose message however does not go beyond corruption allegations and an eagerness to unseat old government sharks, in line with Europe’s fashionable anti-politics.

Khodorkovsky’s recent foray into Kyiv is his first public statement after Putin had him released just before the Sochi Olympics and is, in some way, his real political coming out. Ten years ago, when he was arrested, he was still only a businessman, whereas his ideas about society were gradually presented during his years behind bars. Yet, they have found their first public airing in the Ukraine.

Here, Khodorkovsky has been able to force everyone to rethink events, coming out in favour of the Ukrainian fight for freedom, but also defending rather than attacking “Russia’s interests,” or Putin himself. As he advised the latter to avoid military action, he also acknowledged that he basically agreed with him.

Described as a “Russian freelance author” in posters urging people to come and hear him, he was greeted by huge crowds, especially at Kyiv’s Polytechnic Institute, where he was asked a multitude of questions. His calm tone, his appeal to common sense, his attempts to act as a mediator between the parties in conflict, and the realism in his evaluations met some of the expectations people had but also left them with a sense of unfinished business.

This was just one of the most striking aspects of these meetings. Ordinary folks, average people from all walks of life, from the Ukraine and Russia, want answers for their questions. Yet, they do not know whom to ask: certainly not the various politicians; nor the non-objective pro- or anti-regime journalists; nor the intellectuals, the only ones Khodorkovsky directly addressed when he called for the rediscovery of the meaning of our history, and of the relations between our peoples; nor even the Church or Churches, which in the case of Ukraine are far too compromised with those in power to have the courage to speak the language of the people.

People want to play a leading role in the Ukraine, and for this, some have died. Maidan (which is not a ‘square’ as some have put it in the West but a larger and more open space, not only in a geographical sense) is covered in flowers to honour the ‘Celestial Hundred,’ the hundred or so people whose death for freedom seems to evoke ancient legions of angels sung by the Fathers of the Church, God’s messengers whose voice is real and clear.

As Russians and Ukrainians have come to view even a repentant oil magnate as a prophet, perhaps, the time of angels is just beginning.

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