Russian tycoon freed by Putin meets family
By Kate Millar and Anna Smolchenko, AFPBERLIN/MOSCOW--Russia's former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Saturday was reunited with his oldest son and awaited his parents' arrival in Berlin, after his stunning release from a Russian prison and lightning transfer to Germany.
December 22, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
A day after he was whisked away from his prison camp in a remote corner of northern Russia and put on a plane to Germany, Khodorkovsky was ensconced in one of the most luxurious hotels in the German capital.
The extraordinary operation that has stunned Russia and beyond was worked out behind the scenes with the German government and came about after negotiations between ex-German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and President Vladimir Putin.
“The eldest son of Mikhail Borisovich, Pavel, has already seen his dad,” a spokeswoman for Khodorkovsky, Olga Pispanen, said on Russian radio Echo of Moscow. “They are now together in Berlin.”
Khodorkovsky's parents, Marina and Boris, were also expected in Germany to “finally see and hug him,” the spokeswoman added.
Released on Friday after 10 years behind bars, the father of four is “feeling well” and due to give his first news conference at midday GMT Sunday in Berlin.
'Hard to survive joy'
Khodorkovsky's 79-year-old mother, who has cancer, said she was taking sedatives to help her cope with her emotions.
“We survived grief but it is also apparently hard to survive joy,” Marina Khodorkovskaya said in comments broadcast on Russian state television on Saturday.
Putin shocked Russia on Thursday by saying that after a decade behind bars Khodorkovsky had turned to him for pardon on humanitarian grounds, citing his ailing mother's ill health.
Less than 24 hours later, Khodorkovsky was granted the pardon, walked out of prison in a region near the border with Finland and flew to Germany on a private jet organized by Genscher.
Prison officials said Khodorkovsky had requested to fly to Germany, where his mother has undergone treatment before.
'He is free to return'
The ruthless efficiency and lightning speed of his release led some observers to suggest that Russia's most famous prisoner might have been forced into exile amid Kremlin's attempts to touch up the country's dismal rights record ahead of the Winter Olympics Games it is hosting in February.
But Putin's spokesman dismissed such suggestions.
“He is free to return to Russia. Absolutely,” Dmitry Peskov told AFP on Saturday. He declined to say whether any conditions were attached to his release or whether he would be free to participate in politics.