The experience of the 1998 crisis profoundly changed Khodorkovsky’s outlook. He came to believe that as a successful business leader and patriot, he had a responsibility to help develop Russian society at a more fundamental level. At the time of his arrest, his support for charitable endeavours, both individually and through Yukos, was immense, making him one of the world’s leading philanthropists. Khodorkovsky launched his first civic project in 1994, founding the Podmoskovny Lyceum on the outskirts of Moscow. The lyceum’s mission is to provide a rigorous education to underprivileged children – in particular orphans, victims of terrorism and children of military servicemen. The lyceum is run by highly qualified staff dedicated to creating a caring atmosphere and to providing the best opportunities for each child. The goal of the lyceum is to ensure that by the end of their time there the children are ready and able to qualify for a state grant to attend higher education in Russia. The lyceum continues to function to this day. Khodorkovsky’s parents, Boris and Marina, stay involved in the lyceum’s activities. For them the lyceum is an important extension of their son’s legacy.
After 1998 Khodorkovsky expanded his philanthropic activities and Yukos’s corporate social responsibility. Indeed, Yukos became Russia’s leader in the field of corporate social responsibility, with a particular focus on supporting schools, hospitals and libraries in communities where the company operated. Yukos helped to fund employee mortgages and offered generous resettlement grants. In 2002, the Yukos was recognised by the Russian government as the “Best Company for Compensation and Social Payments Programmes” and for “Implementation of Social Programmes at Enterprises and Organisations”.
As part of Khodorkovsky’s commitment to developing Russia’s global links in 2001 Yukos also funded the United States Library of Congress to the tune of $1 million earmarked for a Russian rule of law programme to offer fellowships for Russian scholars and students with leadership potential.
Also in 2001, Khodorkovsky created the Yukos-funded Open Russia Foundation, with a view towards sustainably building and strengthening civil society in Russia. Funds were disbursed through philanthropic programmes and competitive grant programmes in a wide variety of educational, cultural and social spheres. Typical programmes included the Federation for Internet Education, establishing training centres across the country to teach schoolteachers to use computers and access the Internet; a programme in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and Mass Communications and professional library associations to support the modernisation of rural libraries through computers, Internet access and training; a “New Civilisation” programme geared towards youth based on the values and practices of democracy, civil society, and market economics; and funding for a “Russian Booker Prize” for literature. In 2003, Yukos pledged $100 million in support over the course of a decade for the Moscow State Humanities University. In addition to such programmes, Open Russia was amongst the rare domestically funded organisations that made grants to human rights organisations.
Separately, in 2003 Khodorkovsky provided a major endowment to support the Khodorkovsky Foundation, a United Kingdom-registered charity that provides scholarships for higher education and makes donations to educational establishments. The Khodorkovsky Foundation’s endowment ranks it amongst the largest of such charities operating in Russia, and today it continues to provide support for Russia’s students and educational establishments. The Foundation has also supported the Oxford-Russia Fund, which has provided financial support and scholarships for Russian students to study at the University of Oxford.
Prior to Khodorkovsky’s arrest, even highly placed government officials noted the significance of his philanthropic efforts. In 2000, then-Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko stated: “I call upon other companies in Russia to follow Yukos’s example in the country’s social sphere.”
Following Khodorkovsky’s arrest the Russian authorities launched a concerted campaign against his philanthropic legacy. Open Russia, despite being one of Russia’s largest foundations, donating approximately $15 million per year to a wide variety of civic and charitable groups and institutions, was closed down by the authorities in 2006. In order to discourage enrolment at the Podmoskovny Lyceum, Russian authorities targeted the guardians of students with large tax assessments based on the value of schooling received, and also harassed the Lyceum’s administration. This showed the lengths the authorities were willing to go to in order to undermine and indeed erase Khodorkovsky’s legacy.
Support for Political Parties
Khodorkovsky also believed there was an increasing need to ensure a level political playing field to allow a true pluralist democracy to develop. Because of this he made contributions to a range of opposition parties, in addition to supporting the Kremlin-loyal United Russia party; all with the aim of increasing the quality of political engagement across the political spectrum. He travelled throughout Russia delivering speeches on the need to develop civil society, and on the importance of Russia transitioning towards a vibrant democratic state with checks and balances between the branches of power.