Russian clash with West a ruse to keep elite in power: dissident

17th June 2015, Comments 0 comments

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has no short term solution and is part of a fabricated conflict with the West to distract everyday Russians from corruption and incompetence, a prominent critic of Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man but now living in exile after spending a decade in jail on allegedly trumped up fraud and embezzlement charges, said no real rapprochement with Russia is possible so long as President Putin and his regime remain in charge.

US-Russian ties are at their lowest point since the Cold War, and Russia's ruling elite fosters such isolation from the West as a tool to stay in power, Khodorkovsky said in a speech at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.

"The problem is that Russia has no one to advance its true national interests," said Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky used to own the mammoth Yukos oil company but as he became an increasingly outspoken critic of Putin he was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to nine years in jail.

He ended up serving 10, and was released in late 2013 right before the Sochi winter Olympic Games.

He now lives in exile in Switzerland and leads a Moscow-based human rights group called Open Russia. It aims to discuss alternatives to Putin's rule and is heavily critical of his policies.

Khodorkovsky said he envisioned a post-Putin, Western-oriented Russia although he did not offer specifics on how the current government might fall.

The United States and the rest of the West must therefore prepare for some day gradually welcoming Russia into their fold. And that will mean European Union and NATO membership for their former arch foe, the dissident said.

But for now, he said, Russia's conflict with Ukraine -- its annexation of Crimea and support for ethnic Russian rebels in the east of Ukraine in a campaign condemned by the West -- is here to stay.

"A freezing of the conflict is the only reasonable expectation," Khodorkovsky said.

It might cement into a long-running conflict like that between North and South Korea, he said, adding that the United States has no choice but to remain in engaged in the dispute.

And Russia is currently so dirty with corruption at all levels that to some extent the Russian bureaucracy is tantamount to an organized crime organization, he added.

Khodorkovsky said for instance that while in jail he saw everybody from low level cops to more senior officials simply steal detainees' property.

"They were so not embarrassed that it was clear they were not afraid of any consequences," he said.

© 2015 AFP

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