The war in Ukraine will not end until President Vladimir Putin leaves power, the prominent Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky has told Newsweek.
Once Russia’s richest man when he headed the energy company Yukos, Khodorkovsky was jailed for a decade on what were considered politically motivated charges after he criticized corruption, He was pardoned by Putin in 2013.
His book How to Slay a Dragon, released later this month in the U.S., describes how a revolution is required to usher in democracy and break the cycle of Russia’s history of autocracy.
Khodorkovsky said that the conflict in Ukraine does not present an advantage to the Russian opposition now because, despite high troop losses and retreats, Russian society is not seeing the war as something weakening Putin’s regime.
“Of course, theoretically if Putin loses Crimea, then that would undermine his authority,” he said from his London headquarters where his Open Russia Foundation works to develop civic society in his homeland.
He believed that any negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv to end the war would play into Putin’s hands. “Let’s assume they agree, ‘we stop where we are’. Will Russia live better as a result? No because the sanctions won’t go away, the Russian economy will not get better.
“You have to do something with the territories that have been occupied, but if there is no longer any war, you can’t have that as an excuse, so what is the result? Putin will have to start a new war in a short period of time.”
Khodorkovsky said that if the war is ended through talks, Ukraine would be unlikely to get the same military supplies from the West it gets now, while the chance of membership of NATO and the protection that entails remains remote.
The Kremlin has predicted that Western military support for Kyiv will wane as the war grinds on, with the U.S. Congress omitting Ukrainian funding from the stopgap spending bill to avoid a federal government shutdown.
“In one year’s time when the war resumes, Ukraine will be weakened and Putin will have accumulated arms,” he said, explaining how the Russian president’s ouster is a condition for the conflict to end once and for all.
“In the West there are people who sincerely want Ukraine to win and others who are afraid of that. The result is a counterbalance force,” Khodorkovsky said, “It is not possible to preserve Putin and stop the war.”
“One could think about the ways that Putin should lose but he must definitely leave.”