- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 24, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military offensive now underway in Ukraine is a crime against humanity and a violation of Russian law, exiled opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Thursday.

The exiled billionaire dissident, once one of Russia‘s richest men before he tangled with Mr. Putin, said the military invasion was launched by Mr. Putin and his close associations in a bid to hold on to power. 

Putin has unleashed a war against Ukraine. It is a crime against humanity, it is a grave criminal offence under the Russian law and it is a betrayal of Russian national interests,” Mr. Khodorkovsky said in a statement. 

The Russian people are not backing Mr. Putin but the state and the security organs of power remain under his firm control, Mr. Khodorkovsky contended. 

“Unleashing a war of aggression and using the armed forces for personal gain signifies that a junta led by Putin has seized power in Russia,” he said. “Anyone who, by word or deed, willingly assists the junta becomes a war criminal.” 

Mr. Khodorkovsky said the war should be halted “at all costs,” warning that the conflict spells the end of development for Russian society. Additionally, Mr. Putin has brandished Russia‘s nuclear arsenal in his negotiations with the West and as a result “puts the whole world on the brink of disaster.” 

Mr. Putin announced at the start of military operations against Ukraine that any force that intervenes against the Russian military would face “consequences they have never seen” — comments widely viewed as a veiled threat to retaliate against an attack with nuclear weapons. 

Russia’s military recently adopted a new doctrine known as “escalate to de-escalate,” an approach that military analysts say risks any conflict quickly going nuclear. 

Mr. Khodorkovsky, a Russian businessman-turned-democracy advocate now living in London, said in an interview five years ago that the U.S. government had a chance to convince Mr. Putin to give up power and return Russia on the path of democratic political reform. 

Russia under Mr. Putin had grown unstable and as a nuclear-armed state could collapse in the future, he argued. 

“The only opportunity to seriously change things in the relations between Putin and America under [the Trump] administration would be to convince Putin that it is in his best interest to leave power while this administration is in power. Then all the other problems can and will be solved,” Mr. Khodorkovsky said. 

Mr. Khodorkovsky is a former oil executive who was imprisoned in Russia in 2003 on fraud charges widely viewed as a political repression. He launched a think tank called Open Russia that advocates for democratic reform in Russia

Mr. Khodorkovsky said he believes exposing Mr. Putin’s hidden wealth, estimated to be as much as $45 billion obtained from funds from an oil company called Surgutneftegas, is widely known among Russians. 

The dissident said he believes the West could use a “hybrid” influence operation to convince Mr. Putin to either step down as president or initiate democratic reforms. 

“I think it is to the advantage of both Russian society and American society for Putin to leave. But the world is such that in order for this to happen it needs to be done so that it’s in Putin‘s advantage to leave,” he said.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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