Putin 'only feels love for dogs': Khodorkovsky
Jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Friday launched a lacerating personal attack on his nemesis Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying he pitied a man who could only feel love for dogs.
Khodorkovsky, already serving an eight-year jail sentence for tax evasion, is awaiting a second verdict on new charges and Putin last week angered his legal team by bluntly stating that a "thief must be in prison".
"After the first emotions I had another feeling, a feeling of pity for this already not so young person who appears so energetic yet so lonely in front of this limitless and merciless country," Khodorkovsky wrote in an article for the Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
"A love for dogs is the only sincere kind feeling that penetrates the armour of ice worn by the national symbol of the start of the millennium.
"A man who wears such an armour cannot be happy."
Putin's widely-publicised fondness for dogs is one of the few soft sides to his hardman image. He was recently showing coddling a new dog, a gift from the Bulgarian prime minister he named Buffy to join his existing Labrador Connie.
Khodorkovsky's supporters insist he was jailed on the direct instructions of Putin and his right hand man Igor Sechin for daring to finance opposition parties at the start of the decade.
However the authorities insist the man who was once chief of the Yukos oil giant and Russia's richest person is guilty of serious financial crimes for which he must be punished.
But Khodorkovsky, whose fate has become a rallying call for Russia's sidelined liberals, rounded on Putin for building his power on what he said was fear and cruelty.
"Do we need Russia to again be built on cruelty?"
Sarcastically passing on his New Year's wishes, he added: "I wish for Putin that people did not fear him but loved him. Not everyone, but sincerely. And not only dogs. This would be a genuine happiness."
In comments that could be seen as a rebuke to Putin for his outspoken remarks on Khodorkovsky last week, President Dmitry Medvedev said no Russian official had a right to comment on any case before a verdict.
"Neither the president, not any other official employed by the state, has the right to express their position on this case or any other case before the verdict, guilty or not guilty," Medvedev said in televised comments.
Putin aides later insisted the prime minister's comments, made in a televised phone-in, only applied to the first case against Khodorkovsky.
But the premier made no attempt to conceal his disdain for the fallen magnate, comparing him to disgraced US financier Bernard Madoff and even accusing him of contract killings, allegations never raised in court.
The judge in Khodorkovsky's second trial is due to start reading the verdict on Monday in a process that could still take several weeks.
Seemingly unafraid of the timing of his comments, Khodorkovsky said that Russians could build a different country "without imagined enemies and a mercenary 'power vertical'."
"Everyone together. For our children and grandchildren. We can do it. After all we are one people. And Russia is ours," he added.
Khodorkovsky mercilessly went on to suggest that Putin "as a manifestly intelligent person" was well aware of his own failure.
"He as usual hit out (in the phone-in) at the opposition saying they would rob the country if they came to power.
"But the idea must have flashed by inside his greying head: 'Wasn't it under me, and not 'them' that corruption grew by a factor of 10 and the ruling bureaucrats became Russia's richest class?'"
© 2010 AFP