Don’t be fooled by Putin’s decision to pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, HJS Russia experts warn


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Though pleased by President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he will pardon imprisoned businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society cautions against a rush to embrace the Russian leader given ongoing and widespread human rights violations in his country.

At his annual news conference in Moscow today, President Putin said he would grant a request from Mr Khodorkovsky to pardon him on humanitarian grounds. President Putin stated: “He has already been in detention more than 10 years, this is a serious punishment … I think given the circumstances we can take the decision and very soon the decree to pardon him will be signed”.

Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russia Studies Centre, noted: “The decision to pardon Mr Khodorkovsky is, in many respects, just as arbitrary as the decision to arrest him. Although welcome, President Putin’s decision should not blind us to a great many other injustices visible in Russia today.”

The pardon represents little change for democracy and civil rights in Russia in the long term. A variety of draconian laws mean that Russian citizens face arbitrary arrest.

  • Since 2004, peaceful protests have been curtailed by targeted legislation
  • In 2012, Russia passed a law requiring all organisations receiving foreign funding to be stigmatised as “foreign agents”, which marked a clampdown on NGOs across the country
  • In 2013, Russia introduced homophobic legislation that restricts the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Intersex people

The Henry Jackson Society has worked extensively with Mr Khodorkovsky’s representatives to highlight the case and call for his release. In October of this year, the Russia Studies Centre released a report, Russia’s Descent Toward Authoritarianism: An Examination of the Khodorkovsky Case, which marked the 10th anniversary of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s arrest. The report argued that Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment was emblematic of an increasingly corrupt and illiberal Russia. It concluded that human rights abuses, corruption, and treatment of dissidents have all worsened in Russia during the past decade.


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