Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he will pardon former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who has been jailed since 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges.
After a marathon annual news conference, Putin told reporters that Khodorkovsky had submitted an appeal for pardon, citing humanitarian circumstances as his mother is ill – though this was immediately denied by Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, according to Reuters.
"I think we can take the decision and very soon the decree to pardon him will be signed," said Putin, quoted by Russian news agencies.
The move, along with an amnesty for the two jailed members of the punk band Pussy Riot and the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace ship, appears designed to assuage international criticism of Russia’s rights record ahead of Putin’s pet project, February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Former oil tycoon Khodorkovsky, an outspoken critic of Putin's rule, was first detained in 2003 before being convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2005.
A second trial ended in 2010 with an embezzlement conviction, prompting Western governments to accuse the Kremlin of pursuing selective justice.
Khodorkovsky was due to be released in August 2014.
Considered the president’s top foe, critics have dismissed the charges against Khodorkovsky as a Kremlin vendetta for challenging Putin’s power.
No one should be allowed to ‘violently trample the law’
During the four-hour long press conference, Putin also confirmed that an amnesty approved by the Kremlin-controlled parliament on Wednesday will apply to the two members of Pussy Riot still in jail and the 30-member Greenpeace crew facing hooliganism charges for their September protest at a Russian oil rig in the Arctic.
The amnesty bill included only 8 out of 26 other people tried or awaiting trial in connection with a May 2012 anti-government protest. Two of them were freed in a courtroom during Putin’s news conference.
Putin defended the decision not to offer amnesty to additional protesters, saying that their release would provide a bad example. “No one should be allowed to violently trample on the law,” he said.
Amid a strain in Russia-U.S. ties, Putin also offered surprising support to US President Barack Obama by saying that National Security Agency surveillance is necessary to fight terrorism.
Putin argued that it’s necessary to monitor large numbers of people to expose terrorist contacts. But “on a political level, it’s necessary to limit the appetite of special services with certain rules,” he said.
Has not met with Snowden
Asked about former NSA contractor Edward Snowden – to whom Russia has granted asylum -- Putin said he has not met with him, adding that Russian security agencies have neither worked with Snowden nor asked him any questions related to NSA activities against Russia.
Putin also dismissed a report claiming that Moscow stationed its state-of-the art Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea that borders NATO and EU members Poland and Lithuania, but added that he continues to consider such a move a possible way of countering the US-led missile defense system in Europe.
Both Poland and Lithuania have expressed concern about such a possibility, and Washington warned Moscow against making destabilising moves. Putin said Russia has long considered deploying the missiles, but added “we haven’t made the decision yet”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2013-12-19