An outspoken Russian oligarch and Putin-foe says Putin must go and will go soon and thus Biden shouldn’t be criticized for saying the obvious.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky established one of Russia’s first commercial banks and became rich enough to be referenced as an “oligarch.” But he also did something highly unique among oligarchs, he criticized Putin’s business corruption. (It has long been assumed that Russian billionaires only become billionaires with Putin’s permission and some kind of cut in profits is expected, as much as half). The criticism put Khodorkovsky in a Siberian prison for ten years, almost proving his point. He now lives in London after being freed just prior to the Sochi Olympics, that brief window in which it was important that Russia look less corrupt.
Khodorkovsky recently sat down with The New Republic to emphasize that the world must deal with Putin bravely, a little like the way Khodorkovsky lives. He says there’s nothing more Putin can do to him, despite Putin’s penchant for polonium and “accidents.” Khodorkovsky walks the streets of London without a bodyguard, even taking the sketchy tube. He is also coming to the United States in April to meet with the White House, State Department and appropriate Congressional Committees (There will almost surely be a meeting with the CIA, too, but we won’t hear about it). He is coming with an agenda.
“I have two messages. First, we need to really help the Ukrainians, and we need to be brave. Because if we can’t be brave, Putin will decide to take the next step, which will be invading Poland or the Baltic countries.”
One initially wants to check the first box. But NATO has not delivered the jets that Zelensky desires, nor some of the more high-tech weaponry that the U.S. doesn’t want anywhere near Russia. And yet, Ukraine seems to have been provided enough weaponry to stop the Russians and, in places, push them back. The breathtaking sanctions that Biden enacted shocked even the people who understand sanctions, which isn’t necessarily brave, but following up on those sanctions and getting the West lined up behind him was Biden’s biggest achievement so far with respect to Russia and was brave.
“Second, we must see two different types of Russians. It’s a big mistake to see all Russians as if they are supporting Putin.”
From everything we see here, Americans already believe this to be the case, having read of the counter-protests and the seen the videos.
But it was Khodorkovsky’s message to Americans about Joe Biden’s call for regime change that rang most forcefully, almost a wakeup call:
“I think that Biden was right in his last speech about Putin, and I was very upset that the White House bureaucrats said it was a mistake. Putin is an enemy of the U.S. as well. If he stays in power, there is no peace. You can try to be an ostrich, with your head in the sand. It is not the task of the U.S. government to remove Putin, but … until Putin leaves, we will never have a normal life. That is the opinion of a large part of Russian society.”
Is Khodorkovsky right? Yes and no. True, the world can no longer live with Putin’s instability. Putin’s troops may get bogged down in mud but Putin still has access to more nuclear missiles than the United States, some of them might be of the highly sophisticated hyper-sonic type. Putin has shown to much aggression and instability to sit upon that stockpile. On the other hand, this is somewhat of a one-off and justifiable only because of the nuclear weapons. Generally, we don’t want world leaders calling out various other countries to change leaders. Biden has to be more careful as to how he frames the solution.
Yes, the solution. The solution according to Khodorkovsky is to get Putin out of office and only the Russian people can do that.
“We must understand correctly what Biden meant. It’s not that he said what the American government should do. This was his remark to the Russian audience. It is up to the Russian people to remove Putin from that position. Putin understood this exactly as the White House understood it, so everyone understood Biden correctly.
Though, to be sure, the American government will be involved below the surface. Our intelligence community is pretty good at facilitating our interests by helping such movements. We never hear about it if it is done correctly. Khodorkovsky says it’s coming:
Putin’s regime is going to end very soon. It will inevitably end with a lost war. It could be a lost war now with Ukraine or, tomorrow, a lost war with NATO—because he is not going to stop. As soon as he loses the war in Ukraine or the next war, his days are numbered. And at that point, [world powers] will be interested in having Russia remain whole, not fall apart, because Russia falling apart wouldn’t be a pleasant thing for anyone.
Even dictators have to prove that they can effectively lead the country. It does seem as though the war has been a wake-up call for Russians and they will step in soon enough. At that point, the United States and NATO must move strongly to ensure that those weapons do not end up in the wrong hands. Only then can the United States help build-up a more stable Russia, more like Ukraine, the model that so threatened Putin in the first place.
Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest as a dual Canadian-American citizen, which he grows increasingly thankful for every day. He now enjoys life as a single dad, writing from the beaches of the Gulf Coast, getting advice from his beloved daughter and teammate. He is very much the dreamy mystic that cannot add and loves dogs more than most people. He also likes studying cooking, theoretical physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. He likes pizza.
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