By Madalena Araujo, CNN
Putin critic and former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky wants regime change in his home country but not through a revolution, he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Thursday.
“Without a doubt, I do want a regime change in Russia. I think that my country doesn't deserve a new era of authoritarianism. But at the same time, I don't want a revolution.”
The former Yukos oil tycoon added that, if he could, he "would of course do everything to ensure that the regime change take place as softly as possible, because I consider that it's not worth wasting human lives on what should in fact be a normal procedure of replacing one regime with another in the country.”
“Of course we do understand perfectly well that at some point the situation may explode and then, of course, nobody physically would be able to give anybody any kind of guarantees.”
Khodorkovsky, who backed an opposition party, spent more than 10 years behind bars on charges of tax evasion and fraud. Due for release in August 2014, he was released earlier, in December 2013, after Russian President Putin signed an amnesty decree pardoning him.
His release, along with the pardoning of dissident Russian punk band Pussy Riot and a group of Greenpeace protesters, was widely seen as an attempt to improve the country’s image before the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.
Now living in Zurich, the former magnate told Amanpour that he’s in touch with Kremlin critic and Russian blogger Alexei Navalny, who was found guilty of fraud in December.
“We do work with Alexei's team. We interact with him - indirectly with him as well. And I consider it very important to support him right now. I think that to support the Navalny brothers right now is extremely, extremely important, including in Russia, but in the West as well.”
“I didn't obligate myself not to participate in politics. I wrote Putin - this is true - that until August, I need to deal with family affairs. And to my great regret, in August, my mother died. And now I'm building my life along.”
When Amanpour asked Khodorkovsky what motivates him today, he replied “two things, to be perfectly honest - you can put them in different orders - ambition and a sense of duty.”
“I have both, no question about it. I am ready to put my ambitions away. It won't be easy, but I'm ready to put them away, if for some reason to achieve a success, it would be needed for Alexei Navalny or Alexei Kudrin or Mikhail Kasyanov to be the - at – in the forefront. I won't say that I'm thrilled by that, but that's perfectly fine for me.”
Khodorkovsky attributed Russia’s decision to annex Crimea as an attempt to distract the public’s attention from Putin’s falling approval ratings at the time.
“It's impossible to understand if we don't take into account one problem, Putin's rating had begun to fall. Fifteen years is a typical political cycle in Russia. And Putin is starting to drop in the ratings in the main because his cronies are robbing just completely without limits.”
“It's precisely because of this. I'm absolutely convinced that in the end, the decision was made to annex Crimea in order to distract people's attention. We need to admit that he succeeded at this.”
According to a January survey by the independent Levada, Putin’s approval ratings were at their lowest in 2000, with 62 percent of Russians approving of his performance.
“I think that until Putin resolves the Ukraine problem, he's not going to be creating new crises himself.”
“Now will he be moving further in Ukraine? For example, into Kherson region, that's a little further west from where he is now, this spring, that's definitely a possibility because the event in Crimea took place a little too early. He needs his ratings up by 2018. So he's going to have to give something to the people, because it ain't going to be good with the economy.”