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Russia

Khodorkovsky expresses thanks to Germany, the media

At a Berlin press conference, former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky has thanked all who helped in his release from prison. But he said time had been too short to decide on his future.

Khodorkovky meets the press

Speaking to a packed room in the Berlin Wall Museum close to the site of the historic Checkpoint Charlie, Khodorkovsky expressed thanks to all who had helped him, especially mentioning the media, former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Khodorkovsky went on to say that his presidential pardon and release should not be taken as a sign that there were no political prisoners left in Russia: "The time that is left for me is time I would like to devote to the activity of paying back my debts to the people ... and by that I mean the people who are still in prison," he said.

Among others, he mentioned his business partner Platon Lebedev, who remains in prison. "The most important thing for a prison inmate is hope," he commented.

Khodorkovsky also voiced the hope that his sojourn in Germany would not cause problems with German-Russian ties. Khodorkovsky did not offer advice on how to deal with President Vladimir Putin, saying that Western governments already knew "how they should behave toward someone who is as difficult as the president of my country."

Undecided future

When asked about how long he would remain in Berlin, he said he had not had enough time to decide on his future, but had received a year's visa for Germany. He reiterated earlier remarks in which he said he would not return to Russia without a guarantee that he could leave again without hindrance.

"My financial situation doesn't require me to work just to earn some more money," he said. "I think as part of my career in business I've achieved virtually everything I wanted to achieve."

He also spoke out against any boycott of the Winter Olympics in Sochi: "It's a celebration of sport, something which millions of people will celebrate," he said. "Obviously, it should not become a great party for President Putin."

Some observers see Khodorkovsky's pardon as part of efforts by Putin to improve Russia's image ahead of the games in February.

Khodorkovsky said once more that his pardon was not conditional on an admission of guilt, and that he would never make such an admission. He said he could not be sure about the reasons for his imprisonment.

The press conference was broadcast live on German television.

German connection

Earlier, in a separate interview with the Dozhd television channel, he explained it was Genscher who had suggested he apply to Putin for a pardon on the humanitarian grounds that his mother was severely ill.

"For the time being, my family matters are the most important," he said. "At the moment, if I were to go back to Russia, I may not be allowed to leave the country again."

The 50-year-old Khodorkovsky flew to the German capital, Berlin, on Saturday aboard a private jet sent by Genscher after his release from a prison near the Arctic Circle following a pardon from Putin. There, he was reunited with his parents, who flew in from Moscow, and his eldest son Pavel, who lives in the United States.

Detained since 2003, Khodorkovsky was convicted on separate financial charges in 2005 and 2010, and had been due for release in August 2014.

Kremlin critics say his imprisonment was a politically motivated punishment for challenging Putin.

tj/msh (AFP, dpa)

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