Opposition figure in exile calls Ukraine invasion a ‘crime against humanity’

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

The exiled billionaire dissident, once one of Russia’s richest men before mingling with Mr Putin, says the military invasion was launched by Mr Putin and his inner circle in a bid to retain power .

“Putin started a war against Ukraine. It is a crime against humanity, it is a serious criminal offense under Russian law and it is a betrayal of Russian national interests,” Khodorkovsky said in a statement.

The Russian people do not support Mr. Putin, but the state and the security organs of power remain under his firm control, Mr. Khodorkovsky argued.

“Unleashing a war of aggression and using the armed forces for personal ends means that a Putin-led junta has taken power in Russia,” he said. “Anyone who, in word or deed, voluntarily assists the junta becomes a war criminal.”

Mr Khodorkovsky said the war must be stopped “at all costs”, warning that the conflict spells the end of the development of Russian society. Moreover, Mr. Putin wielded Russia’s nuclear arsenal in his negotiations with the West and, therefore, “brings the whole world to the brink of disaster”.

Mr Putin announced at the start of military operations against Ukraine that any force that intervened against the Russian military would face ‘consequences it has never seen’ – comments widely seen as a veiled threat of retaliation against a nuclear weapon attack.

The Russian military recently adopted a new doctrine known as “escalate to defuse”, an approach that military analysts say risks any conflict quickly becoming nuclear.

Mr Khodorkovsky, a Russian businessman turned democracy advocate who now lives in London, said in an interview five years ago that the US government had a chance to convince Mr Putin to relinquish power and bring back Russia on the road to democratic political reform. .

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

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

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

Mr Khodorkovsky said he believed the revelation of Mr Putin’s hidden wealth, estimated at $45 billion from the funds of an oil company called Surgutneftegas, was widely known to Russians.

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

“I think it is to the benefit of Russian society and American society that Putin is leaving. But the world is such that for that to happen, you have to make sure it’s in Putin’s interest to leave,” he said.

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