(JNS.org) Russian President Vladimir Putin has pardoned oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose father is Jewish and has been incarcerated for a decade since his Yukos oil company dissolved and he was arrested on fraud and tax evasion charges.
Khodorkovsky was released Friday and issued a statement thanking "everyone who has been following the Yukos case all these years for the support you provided to me, my family and all those who were unjustly convicted and continue to be persecuted," the New York Times reported.
“When Khodorkovsky was arrested, many, especially in the Jewish press, saw it as an attack against a Jewish businessman, and thus as a reinforcement of pernicious old stereotypes in a country famous for its institutionalized anti-Semitism,” wrote Tablet magazine’s Julia Ioffe in 2011.
Khodorkovsky’s “political ambitions, and his risky battle with Putin, made it even less likely that he would openly identify himself as a Jew, even as his cause was adopted by the American Jewish and Israeli press,” she wrote.
Putin said Thursday regarding Khodorkovsky, “He has been in jail already more than 10 years. This is a serious punishment.”
Sam Kliger, the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) director of Russian Jewish community affairs, does not believe Khodorkovsky's original arrest was connected to his Jewish father.
Unlike the Soviet government, “Putin's administration was not anti-Semitic at all, and still is not. This is just a matter of policy. They decided not to play anti-Semitic card,” Kliger told JNS.org.
"He was put in jail because I believe, and many believed, that he has some political ambitions, including a desire to run for president [of Russia]," Kliger added.
Kliger also believes that Putin's decision to pardon Khodorkovsky is "a positive sign."
"Many human rights groups, including AJC, were speaking for his release for many years," he said.
The upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi are also a possible factor in this decision. Since there are those calling to boycott the games over the human rights situation in Russia, including anti-gay legislation and political imprisonment, the pardon "is a good gesture to the entire human rights community," Kliger said.
“According to Putin's calculations, Khodorkovsky is no longer a threat to his political power, which may be a miscalculation, we don't know,” he said.