Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Released Dissident Pledges to Skirt Politics in Russia

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Released Dissident Pledges to Skirt Politics in Russia

Article excerpt

BERLIN -- After a decade of incarceration that transformed Russia's wealthiest man into its most famous political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky faced journalists Sunday in this German capital following a head-spinning 36-hour journey to freedom.

The former oil tycoon recounted with a detached humor how, in the hours after a surprising clemency from his nemesis, President Vladimir Putin, he was awakened at 2 a.m. Friday by prison guards at a penitentiary near the Finnish border and whisked away, first to St. Petersburg, then onto a special flight to Germany.

Mr. Khodorkovsky said he had written Mr. Putin to assure that he would not involve himself in everyday Russian politics, and insisted that he could not, for the moment, risk returning to Russian soil or even be sure about how much of his once-vast wealth he retained.

Mr. Khodorkovsky insisted he has enough to live and won't seek to recover assets lost after he was arrested for fraud and tax evasion at a Siberian airstrip in 2003.

But there was nothing of the penitent about him.

During an hour spent with Russian-speaking journalists, Mr. Khodorkovsky, 50, exhibited the same calm assurance with which he once confronted Mr. Putin, vowing that he would work to help other political prisoners in Russia. Showing no trace of rancor or bombast, he also related some of the lessons he took away from his 10 years in prison, saying that Russians themselves had to change.

Arriving in Berlin -- wearing a parka that officials hastily bought for him in the St. Petersburg airport to replace his prison- issued coat, he explained in an interview with the Moscow magazine The New Times -- he was met by a former German foreign minister, ensconced in a luxury hotel, reunited with his parents and grown son, and met his 4-year-old granddaughter for the first time.

And he ended his public appearances Sunday with a shoving, chaotic news conference at the museum to Checkpoint Charlie -- the U. …

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