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Russia

What Divides Khodorkovsky From Russia's Current Opposition

Much has changed in the past 10 years. Oligarchs have been replaced by networks as the real challenge to Vladimir Putin's power.

In Berlin, after his release
In Berlin, after his release
Julian Hans

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is giving up everything that once defined his power. He is relinquishing the right to his shares in Yukos, which have been in the hands of the state-owned Rosneft since his imprisonment. He will also stay out of Russian politics. This is what he wrote in the letter that was sent to Vladimir Putin along with his appeal for pardon.

This was not a condition for his release, but it certainly made the decision easier for the Russian president. It remains to be seen whether the man who up until four days ago was the most famous prisoner in his country will return to Russia or whether the Hotel Adlon in Berlin will be the first stop on a long journey of exile.

Russia is a very different country than it was ten years ago. Nothing could make that clearer than the reappearance of this ghost from the past. Until the early 2000s, the power balance in Moscow was highly complex, with oligarchs competing for influence over politics and the media. Nowadays these oligarchs still exist, but they leave politics to the Kremlin and diligently get on with their business. The one exception is Boris Berezovsky, who had been a vocal critic of the Russian government from exile in Britain – he was found hanged at his home in March.

It is as though Khodorkovsky is reappearing after spending 10 years frozen in time. The expectations being placed on him have more to do with his status as the most famous political prisoner in Russia than his achievements before being imprisoned. The only thing that links him to what we will simplistically refer to as “the Russian opposition” is that both have been opposed to and the victims of the Kremlin’s arbitrary wielding of power. Aside from that shared experience, their environments and methods could not be more different.

From the outset, Khodorkovsky’s influence came from a mixture of his proximity to those in power and his economic strength. Now he has lost both. The new generation of government critics come from the middle classes, and their power is based on networks. Many had the opportunity to travel abroad as young adults and observe functioning democracies, something that would have been unheard of for oligarchs who came up under Soviet rule.

Putin more powerful than ever

Germany may well congratulate itself on the effectiveness of its diplomatic attempts to secure Khodorkovsky’s release, but the truth is that these negotiations would have gotten nowhere if Putin himself had not decided that now is the opportune moment. Two months before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia could do with a few positive headlines.

And yet Putin’s recent successes in the management of the Edward Snowden affair, the Syrian chemical weapons dossier and influence in Ukraine also mean that the Russian president feels his position is now strong enough to free himself of this burden.

The reasons for Khodorkovsky’s renunciation of Yukos and politics are twofold. He knows that he cannot win in a direct confrontation with Putin. A new attack would not only damage him, but also numerous colleagues who risk facing trial for alleged gang crime. Khodorkovsky signed the clemency plea for their sake too. And he understands that as a man with Jewish roots and a supposed beneficiary of “predatory privatization,” he cannot hope for much support from Russian voters. He is planning for the long term and hoping that society will change. After all, the last ten years show that it can.

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Ideas

Absolute Free Speech Is A Recipe For Violence: Notes From Paris For Monsieur Musk

Elon Musk bought Twitter in the name of absolute freedom. But numerous research shows that social media hate speech leads to actual violence. Musk and others running social networks need to strike a balance.

Absolute Free Speech Is A Recipe For Violence: Notes From Paris For Monsieur Musk

Freedom on social networks can result in insults and defamation

Jean-Marc Vittori

-Analysis-

PARIS — Elon Musk is the world's leading reckless driver. The ever unpredictable CEO of Tesla and SpaceX is now behind a very different wheel as the new head of Twitter.

He began by banning remote work before slightly backtracking and authorizing it for the company’s “significant contributors.” Now he’s opened the door to Donald Trump to return to Twitter, while at the same time vaunting a decrease in the number of hate-messages that appear on the social network…all while firing Twitter’s content moderation teams.

But this time, the world’s richest man will have to make choices. He’ll have to limit his otherwise unconditional love of free speech. “Freedom consists of being able to do everything that does not harm others,” proclaimed the French-born Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789.

Yet freedom on social networks results not only in insults and defamation, but sometimes also in physical aggression.

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