- POSTED: 22 Dec 2013 01:56
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Russia's former richest man and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was on Saturday reunited with his son in Berlin, after his surprise release from a Russian prison and lightning transfer to Germany.
BERLIN: Russia's former richest man and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky was on Saturday reunited with his son in Berlin, after his surprise release from a Russian prison and lightning transfer to Germany.
A day after he was whisked away from his prison camp in a remote corner of northern Russia, Khodorkovsky was ensconced in one of the most luxurious hotels in the German capital.
The extraordinary operation that has stunned Russia was worked out behind the scenes with the German government and came about after negotiations between ex-German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After meeting the 50-year-old ex-oil tycoon, a German politician told reporters that his return to Russia was "not on the agenda" but that she had no mandate to talk about his plans.
Greens MP Marieluise Beck, who is a longstanding friend and supporter of the former oligarch, said that only his eldest son Pavel, who lives in New York, was already in Berlin, but added: "The mother is on the way here."
Pavel had earlier told reporters outside the Adlon Hotel in central Berlin where his father arrived Friday that his family had been "finally reunited".
A spokesman told AFP earlier that Khodorkovsky's parents, Marina and Boris, were "on their way" to Berlin.
Released on Friday after 10 years behind bars, Khodorkovsky will symbolically give his first news conference Sunday near the Cold War symbol, Check Point Charlie, a well-known crossing point from East to West Berlin.
Khodorkovsky's 79-year-old mother, who has cancer, said earlier Saturday she was taking sedatives to help her cope with her emotions.
"We survived grief but it is also apparently hard to survive joy," Marina Khodorkovskaya said in comments broadcast on Russian state television.
Khodorkovsky, a vocal Putin critic, was jailed for financial crimes in separate convictions in 2005 and 2010, but his supporters said he was being punished for daring to finance the opposition.
He had been due for release in August 2014.
Putin shocked Russia on Thursday by saying that, after a decade behind bars, his fierce opponent had turned to him for a pardon on humanitarian grounds, citing his mother's ill health.
Less than 24 hours later, Khodorkovsky was granted the pardon, walked out of prison in a region near the border with Finland and flew to Berlin on a private jet organised by Genscher.
Prison officials said Khodorkovsky had requested to fly to Germany, where his mother had undergone treatment before.
With Russia and the world eagerly waiting to learn of Khodorkovsky's plans, a German analyst who helped with his transfer said the former oligarch would likely stay out of politics but could become a high-profile public figure and moral authority.
"He could take upon himself the role of (Alexander) Solzhenitsyn," Alexander Rahr, who acted as a translator for Genscher, told AFP, referring to the former Soviet dissident and Nobel-prize winning author.
Rahr said that Genscher had asked him to support the mediation with the Russian authorities two and a half years ago, adding that he had helped translate letters. Not even his wife knew of the effort, he added.
Genscher, who has met with Putin to negotiate Khodorkovsky's release, picked him up at the airport in Berlin.
Once at the Adlon Hotel, Khodorkovsky and Genscher raised a vodka toast, said the analyst, who earlier released a photo of a smiling Khodorkovsky, his hair still closely cropped, clinking glasses with Rahr.
"What's most important today is Freedom, Freedom, Freedom," said the former prisoner in a statement to a Russian opposition magazine titled The New Times for which he wrote a column from prison.
"A lot lies ahead, the release of those hostages who still remain in prison, first and foremost Platon Lebedev," he said, referring to his jailed business partner.
The dizzying speed of Khodorkovsky's release led some observers to suggest that Russia's once most famous prisoner might have been forced into exile amid attempts by the Kremlin to touch up his country's dismal rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics it is hosting in February.
But Putin's spokesman dismissed such speculation.
"He is free to return to Russia. Absolutely," Dmitry Peskov told AFP on Saturday. He declined to say whether any conditions were attached to his release or whether he would be free to participate in politics.
Khodorkovsky said in his first official statement on Friday his request for a pardon did not amount to an admission of guilt.
He said he planned "to repay my debts" to family but did not release any other details.
US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the release but urged Moscow to do more to improve the rule of law.
Two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band are expected to be freed under an amnesty that comes less than two months before the Olympic Games start in Sochi.
Thirty Greenpeace activists, arrested on hooliganism charges after a protest against Arctic oil drilling, are also expected to escape prosecution.
Khodorkovsky's release drew the curtain on the highest-profile criminal case in Russia which has harmed the investment climate and become a symbol for the persecution of Kremlin enemies.
The Kommersant broadsheet, citing sources, said Khodorkovsky had decided to seek a pardon after a meeting with representatives of Russia's security services, who had warned about a possible third criminal case against him while reminding him of his mother's worsening health.