Return to Transcripts main page


Life after Prison; Imagine a World

Aired December 23, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. And this is a very special edition of our program tonight. We come to you from Berlin's Adlon Hotel, which is a very far cry from my guest's last known address, that was Penal Colony No. 7 on Russia's northwestern frontier.

My guest, of course Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who, in a surprise move, was pardoned after a decade in prison by Vladimir Putin earlier in the week. The man who once was called Russia's richest man under 40 was reunited here in Germany with his parents.

He came here to Berlin partly because the man who lobbied for his release over all these years was the former German foreign minister, Hans- Dietrich Genscher.

Putin said he released Khodorkovsky on humanitarian grounds because his mother is ill, suffering from cancer.

The former oil tycoon had been in jail since October 2003, on fraud and tax evasion charges, to which he pleaded not guilty and most people believe they were politically motivated.

Khodorkovsky made a fortune in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He used his incredible wealth to fund opposition parties and thus earned him the undying enmity of President Vladimir Putin.

Khodorkovsky's second term was due to expire next year, though there were deep rumblings that perhaps the state would mount another case against him. Putin's decision to pardon him now was seen by some as an effort to clean up his and Russia's image before the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

On the other hand, Putin's allies read this as a sign that he feels confident and secure, both at home and on the world stage.

I asked Mikhail Khodorkovsky what it feels like to be free after 10 years. The terrible price that his family has had to pay, what lies in his future, will there be politics ahead and whether he's forgiven Putin for taking away 10 years of his life and his freedom.


AMANPOUR: Mikhail Khodorkovsky, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Welcome to freedom.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): A special thanks to you.

AMANPOUR: How does it feel?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I can't say that I was deprived of freedom. I just feel that these 10 years didn't happen. I was here exactly 10 years ago in his hotel. And I'm here again. And it's as if these 10 years had not happened.

AMANPOUR: So you were here before you went back to Russia and then you got arrested?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): That was not my last trip. But it was directly before that.

AMANPOUR: How did your freedom come about?

Did you ask President Putin for a pardon, for clemency?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I don't exactly understand myself how I was freed. I wrote a formal document where I said that I'd served over 10 years and I asked to be released, to be freed.

I wrote a personal letter to Mr. Putin in which I explained the reasons why these remaining few months were important for me. I wrote this document in the middle of November. At that time, my mother was here in Berlin in a cancer clinic and we were not quite sure how this was all going to end.

Thank God she now feels better and she's even being discharged for a few months to go to Moscow for Christmas.

AMANPOUR: Was there a deal for your release?

Did President Putin or his people say on this condition, we will release you?

Were there any conditions laid?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): It rather was the reverse. Mr. Putin on a number of times publicly said that he was ready to consider the question of my pardoning, but I had to declare that I was guilty for that. That was an absolutely unacceptable condition.

AMANPOUR: So you have not admitted any guilt?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): The achievement this time was that Mr. Putin did not make any conditions that I had to declare any guilt.

AMANPOUR: What was it like living in prison? What kind of food? What were the fellow inmates like? What was it like?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): In a big barracks, where there could be 50 or 100 people in one room, nothing good.

AMANPOUR: Were you worried? Was there -- in many prisons around the world, there's violence between inmates or violence from the wardens to the inmates.

You were stabbed with a knife?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Yes. I was lucky. The man aimed at my eye but didn't reach it, and cut my nose. Fortunately, the dentist who was there was summoned. He was also a plastic surgeon. And as a result, carried out an operation on me which was hardly noticeable.

AMANPOUR: How did you survive? How did you keep your body and soul together in this situation?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Well, I saw prison as an ordeal.

AMANPOUR: You said once that had you known what you were in for, you might have committed suicide.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): It really is true that I said that. And it's probably true that if before prison I had been able to see all these future years in advance at that time, I might not have survived.

AMANPOUR: Are you allowed to return to Russia?

And will you return to Russia anytime soon?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I have a big lawsuit concerning the first case. And despite the fact that the European court has recognized that this lawsuit was illegal, the Russian Supreme Court has not canceled it yet. According to our legislation, I may not be released to go abroad again. And bearing in mind my mother will return to Berlin in a couple of months to continue her treatment, I cannot take such a risk for myself.

AMANPOUR: We're talking about your family now. That was a huge sacrifice, 10 years you didn't see your family grow up.

What are your feelings, your reflections on how this cost your family so dearly?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): That is my huge debt, which I do not know if I will manage to give back.

AMANPOUR: It's very emotional.



AMANPOUR: And when we return, we'll talk about the state of Russian politics, what really are Mikhail Khodorkovsky's plans for the future and all that has passed him by in the 10 years that he's been in prison.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, continuing my conversation with Mikhail Khodorkovsky in what was his first in-depth face-to-face interview since being freed by Vladimir Putin and arriving here in Germany over the weekend.

Now we're going to talk about the state of Russian politics, whether he has a role to play in the future and what he's missed most in the 10 years that he was in jail.


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you something, why do you think President Putin pardoned you and let you go now? Why?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I do not have any information. I can only suppose as I'm saying and as it seemed to me that for some internal reasons it became important for Vladimir Putin.

Now the reputation of the country as a democratic state and he is taking a whole number of steps in this area, including the setting up, so to speak, of international media. I think the decision about me was made in this context.

AMANPOUR: Do you think it had anything to do with the Sochi Olympics?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): We can only suppose the Olympic Games, the G8, which Russia is going to be chairing, the general situation that it's time for Russia to look more attractive.

AMANPOUR: Let me go back to the Yukos days and even before.

Let's be very serious. People like yourself got a very good deal. You were able to build a huge business at the same time that many Russians saw their pensions going, saw their living standards falling, fell into poverty.

Oligarchs like you were not popular. People didn't like you.

They say you're a nice guy, but in general, they didn't like you guys.

If you had to do it all again, would you do something differently?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): There are different oligarchs in Russia. Some people lead a very luxurious lifestyle. Other people are involved in production and all the money is invested into the production. It depends on what you're interested in.

I was always interested in production and nevertheless to just be involved in production was a huge mistake. I should have been involved on the level where I was with the problems of society and clearly that it something which I blame myself for very much.

AMANPOUR: In the year 2000, Vladimir Putin met with all of the oligarchs, yourself included, and offered a deal. We'll look away from financial irregularities or whatever as long as you don't involve yourself in politics.

But you didn't abide by that. You carried on. Your were funding opposition parties. You were political. It was almost like you were daring them to come after you.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): For a president who's not naive to say something to a representative of big business, who's not naive, that you're not going to be involved in political life would probably be ridiculous. The question was not to use the resources of the company. That is not to use those methods that were used in previous years.

But it's ridiculous to say that we're not going to be involved in political life.

AMANPOUR: Will you go into politics?

What is your plan for the future?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I cannot say that I've exactly decided on my plans now. But what I've certainly decided for myself is that I do not want to be a symbol that no political prisoners remain in Russia. I want to become a symbol of the efforts of society that can lead to the freedom of political prisoners.

AMANPOUR: Do we need to be worried that Mikhail Khodorkovsky is poor? Do you have money outside of Russia?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I'm not a poor man. I don't need to worry about earning money. Therefore I can spend time quite fully on the problems of civil society.

But of course that does not mean I can be like a sponsor of the opposition in the time of Yukos. I certainly do not have such resources.

AMANPOUR: Do you have billions?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): No. If I had billions, then I'd pay for the lawsuit so that I had the possibility of traveling to Russia.

AMANPOUR: Do you forgive Vladimir Putin?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I would say it in a slightly different way. I don't consider this to be Putin's revenge or rational behavior. And what I do not consider to be rational behavior is something I can cope with.

AMANPOUR: But you went further. You said that for the future of a democratic Russia, Russians, particularly the liberals, those who would consider themselves opposition, should take the Nelson Mandela model.

Is that possible in Russia?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I'm convinced that if we do not want to return to a new circle of authoritarianism every time, that is exactly how we have to behave.


AMANPOUR: We're going to take a break now and when we come back, Twitter, Facebook, the iPad, all of this since Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been in jail. What did he miss? When we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where Twitter, Facebook, the iPad, all the latest technology, has simply passed you by. I guess it could only happen if you spent 10 years in some of the severest, harshest gulags known to man. That is what happened to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, 10 years in penal colonies on Russia's furthest borders.


AMANPOUR: The world passed you by for the last 10 years. What have you missed, do you think? What are you surprised about, now that you've come out?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I've always loved computers in my life. But what has surprised me the most as far as technical achievements are concerned is, of course, LED technology. I think that this is not noticeable for the majority of people.

But it's fantastic.

AMANPOUR: All the lights?

What's your favorite gadget?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): Today, guess, clearly the iPad.


AMANPOUR: Do you have one?

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): I need to seriously look into it. But yes, I've got one.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Your son and your grandchildren will have to help you.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): All the more so because my son is an expert in computer technology.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Khodorkovsky, thank you for joining me.

KHODORKOVSKY (through translator): And I thank you.


AMANPOUR: And that's it for this special edition of our program. Remember you can always contact us at, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from Berlin.