Pavel Khodorkovsky, In The Name of The Father

July 3, 2013

The French newspaper Le Figaro published the following interview with Pavel Khodorkovsky. The original version of the interview, in French, is available here.


The son of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, imprisoned in the Russian Far North by the regime of Vladimir Putin, has not seen his father in ten years. But the fight continues.


Pavel Khodorkovsky resembles his father. Same dark eyes and dark brown hair. Same attitude. Very thoughtful, well-mannered.My father is tougher than me in business. Sees everything, thinks quickly. He keeps telling me that this is the key to success in business. He often criticizes me for not going fast enough and that I have a tendency to “think too much about my decisions!” The young man of 28 smiled quietly.

It has been ten years since Pavel has seen his father, imprisoned in Northern Russia in Karelia by the regime of Vladimir Putin, after a highly political trial. The famous oil billionaire went to visit him in the United States in September 2003, to select a college specializing in business as he was about to do his studies in Massachusetts. Mikhail Khodorkovsky was aware of the approaching battle with the Russian government. He knew that his commitment to fund the liberal parties was seen in the Kremlin as a declaration of war. There was no place for an opponent and a power-broker as great as him in the authoritarian Russia that had emerged under Putin. But Khodorkovsky couldn’t possibly imagine that a month later he would be arrested and that ten years later, he would celebrate his fiftieth anniversary in prison on the 26th June.”

We did not see each other again,” sighed Pavel, who has not returned to Russia, for fear of being sent for military service, then to be used to pressure his father. But his life was shattered by the tragedy. At 18, he had to learn to make his way alone. With the money his father had left him for any master studies, Pavel, obviously inspired by his “father”, created Energiv, a company specializing in the manufacture of high-tech systems to optimize the consumption of energy. Above all, the young man plunged his way into Russian politics, creating the Institute of Modern Russia, a think-tank whose aim is to engage Americans with political developments and the human rights situation in Moscow. He has learned to decipher the Kremlin and the intricacies of how the U.S. Congress works, where he regularly meets with politicians.

I have two interrelated goals: to get my father out of prison and to help Russia to get back on the right path,” said the young man. Last Wednesday, the foundation organized a party in New York to celebrate the birthday of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Former Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, now in opposition, was to deliver a special address.

I hope to talk to him this weekend, said Pavel. But I’m happy for him because he will see the family.” The second wife of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and their three children travelled by train for twenty three hours to Karelia on Thursday where they were to spend three days with the most famous Russian political prisoner. These family gatherings are allowed every three months.

If Pavel had the strength of character to turn into the “defender” of his father, it’s probably because he was not raised as other rich kid “princes” of the new Russia. Born in 1985, just when his father embarked on the choppy waters of capitalism, “Pasha” was sent to kindergarten at the same chemical plant Calibre, where his grandparents and mother worked; a regular school, where he would have the same “excellent” teacher as did his father. He then went to a bilingual school in Moscow, “better than normal public schools but not a school for the rich establishment”. At the age of 14 his father saw fit to send him to Switzerland, to a school that would open the doors of American universities. “My father has always struggled not to spoil his children. He wanted the rewards to be progressive. Because if it was immediately the best toys, the best cars…we would no longer want anything. I will do the same thing with my daughter, “said Pavel wisely.  He has not lived with his father since his parent’s divorce in the late 1980s, but has remained close to him.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was not at his wedding six years ago. He did not attend the birth of his granddaughter, who is 3 years old, but he is “very proud” of her, assures Pavel, who is allowed to speak with his father every fortnight for a few minutes. “It’s hard, but it’s fine, he is strong, we remain hopeful.” In principle, the nightmare is scheduled to end in October 2014, when the businessman should be released from prison. But Pavel remains “very concerned about the persistent rumors claiming that new charges will be made” against his father. Recent pressures on a group of Russian experts who denounced the sham trial of Khodorkovsky trial have added to this concern.  Pavel was struck by the flight to France of the economist Sergei Guriev. At the same time, he has reason to hope, because, he said, “Vladimir Putin has reached the opposite result to that which he was looking for with my father. He has become one of the few political prisoners in Russian history to celebrate a full decade in prison, but contrary to what was expected by the government, he has not been forgotten or broken. Instead, by trying to destroy the opposition, deprive it of funds and scare it off, Putin has created an Opposition figure of opposition and awakened society. “

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