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German Key in Khodorkovsky Deal

Published: December 25, 2013 (Issue # 1792)

  • Khodorkovsky arrives at his first news conference in Berlin on Dec. 23 after being released from a decade-long imprisonment.
    Photo: Markus Schreiber / AP

After former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky walked free on Dec. 20 after more than 10 years in prison, he spent less than 24 hours in his home country.

Instead of going to see his parents in the suburbs of Moscow, he flew straight to Germany, part of an apparent deal he had made with the Kremlin to secure his release, a deal that observers say was achieved partly thanks to German diplomacy and the special relationship President Vladimir Putin has with Europes largest country.

The leading German role in the drama was played by former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who acted as the main mediator between Putin and Khodorkovskys lawyers, working for some 2 1/2 years to help facilitate Khodorkovskys release.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seen as Putins closest ally in the European Union despite sometimes rocky personal relations, assisted as well, raising the issue of Khodorkovskys imprisonment on numerous occasions during talks with Putin. Merkel said she was happy when she found out the news about his being pardoned.

Russian-German relations are closer and more stable than Russias relations with other Western countries the two countries trust each other, said Jens Siegert, who heads the Moscow office of the Boell Foundation, a Green Party-leaning think tank.

Germany falls in the category of countries whose opinion the Kremlin is not indifferent to. If, for example, Sweden appealed to Russia with a request to pardon Khodorkovsky, it would likely not have such political force as one from Germany, Siegert said.

At a news conference Sunday in Berlin, Khodorkovsky thanked Merkel and said he found out about her role in his release only when he arrived in Germany. He did not elaborate on what exactly her role was, and on Monday, Putin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters that if Merkel had played some role, she would tell about it herself.

First of all, Merkel was concerned that the second case against Khodorkovsky was more a question of politics than a legal matter, Siegert said. Secondly, she wanted to be re-elected, and public opinion in Germany is very critical toward Khodorkovskys prosecution.

The role of Genscher, who organized Khodorkovskys flight to Berlin and met him at the Berlin airport, is clearer. Over the last 2 1/2 years, he had been on a mission designed to free Khodorkovsky, according to Alexander Rahr, scientific director of the German-Russian Forum think-tank and Genschers consultant during the mission.

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