The European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom have imposed unprecedented sanctions on the Russian government, including in the energy sector and the Kremlin-controlled media.
Beyond these sanctions that hit Russian institutions, more than 900 people, including many oligarchs involved in the financing and conduct of the Russian war in Ukraine, were directly sanctioned by the West.
Exiled to London after spending a decade in prison, the former Russian oil magnate and former oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky confided in an interview with Euronews.
He bluntly talks about his greatest enemy and the war in Ukraine in The Global Conversation.
Why did Vladimir Putin decide to invade Ukraine?
Shona Murray, Euronews:
Mr. Khodorkovsky, thank you very much for answering our questions. During an important period of your life, you knew Vladimir Putin well, you were close to the Russian leader.
That’s why I would like to have your opinion. In your opinion, what is he thinking at the moment and how far can he go in this war?
What I see today is above all a mixture of pragmatism, that is to say his desire to strengthen his popularity rating in Russia and a certain emotionality, in particular a kind of paranoid fear of what is happening in the neighboring country, a fear of democratic transformations and the independence acquired by Ukraine.
But at the same time we saw his military intervention in 2008, his takeover of Crimea in 2014. Do you think they are dissociable from the war in Ukraine or the current war is triggered, as you have said before the interview, because of COVID-19 and other issues? Is that what you claim?
During his various terms, Vladimir Putin solved his electoral problems with war four times. The first time was in 1999. Then it was in 2008, in 2014, and now in 2022. In any case, the isolation caused by the pandemic made him believe that Ukraine would not resist, that he would meet no organized resistance there, and that certain towns would even welcome him with flowers!
“Putin is not a statesman, he is a bandit”
You say it’s Vladimir Putin’s failure. But isn’t this also the failure of the West? Over the past two decades, Moscow has taken control of Crimea, its army has moved into Syria.
Finally, was the West not naïve to what Vladimir Putin intended to do?
The leaders of major European countries still believe that they can negotiate something with Putin without showing strength, that they can talk to him, which Putin perceives as a position of weakness. It’s a tragic mistake, because he’s not a statesman like them, he’s a bandit. And what does a bandit do in this kind of situation, when he thinks he is strong and is urged to take a step towards them? He tries to finish off his victim.
“This conflict can only be resolved on the battlefield”
So what do you think is the solution? Obviously, I think that at this stage, maybe Emmanuel Macron and others are realizing that we cannot try to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. So what do you suggest they do to end this situation?
You know, very recently, probably a month ago, I was surprised by Josep Borrell, he is a European bureaucrat and I did not expect harsh words from him. He said the right words when he said that this issue will not be resolved around a negotiating table but on the battlefield. Of course, we will have negotiations at the end of this war, but above all, this conflict will be resolved on the battlefield, there is no alternative.”
And what does that imply? Does this mean that NATO should officially intervene in Ukraine? Do you think this is the only solution? If not, will the war continue or expand?
Today, NATO has a tremendous opportunity to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty by participating in this war, including providing weapons and training Ukrainian soldiers, rather than fighting directly on the ground.
But, if this opportunity is missed, I warn you: in a few years, or perhaps even before, NATO will be directly involved in this war, because it will take place on the territory of one of the NATO countries.
Those who believe that you can somehow come to an agreement with the abuser, repeat the mistakes of many of their predecessors. Tens of millions of Europeans have already paid for these mistakes with their lives 70 years ago.
“The Russian army is much more superior”
How do you rate NATO’s support? In particular that of the Member States. We have often witnessed debates in Germany about arms destined for Ukraine. Do you think efforts need to be stepped up significantly or is NATO on the right track in terms of military support to Ukraine?
I am sure that sanctions could have counted in 2014. But today sanctions cannot end aggression, although they can weaken the regime so that it does not attack again in some time .
Now the conflict will be resolved on the battlefield. If NATO wants it to be resolved on Ukrainian territory, then, of course, it (NATO) should provide much more systematic support.
It makes me laugh to hear some officials say that ‘if we provide five, ten or twenty more guns to Ukraine, they could fight on Russian territory!’ But what are you talking about? Today, the artillery of the Russian army exceeds the capabilities of the army by 20 times
Ukrainian! 20 times more! The domination of the Russian air force is total.
“I would like to help rebuild my country”
Just one last question, you said that this war will lead to the downfall of Vladimir Putin. This conflict has affected you personally because of your family history in Ukraine – especially your grandmother and your childhood in this country. And if one day the government of Vladimir Putin comes to an end, do you see yourself returning to Russia to participate in the reconstruction of the country, as a political figure?
I am not a politician by nature. I have always loved doing business. And after prison, where I spent 10 years, I am now more interested in social activities. I think Russia should no longer have a czar figure who is always looking for an external enemy. It is very important for post-Putin Russia to become a federal state and build a functioning parliament that would represent the interests of Russian regions. If at that time they need my support as a manager or administrator with relevant management experience, I will of course try to help my country. But if the new generation can take care of it, I will be very happy about it too.