Jailed Russian Oligarch Khodorkovsky Becomes Columnist

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Marco Werman: I am Marco Werman and this is The World. He used to be the richest man in all of Russia. Mikhail Khodorkovsky headed the oil company Yukos, but then he ran afoul of the Kremlin and in 2005 Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 8 years in prison for tax evasion and other offences. Now the former multi-billionaire has come up with a way to pass the time. He is writing a column for the Moscow magazine New Times from behind bars. Yevgenia Albats is the editor of New Times. Albats says Khodorkovsky is making an important contribution.

Yevgenia Albats: He is writing about the people in Gulag that he met and about the ethics that exist inside the Russian prison system, and to make these bridges between Gulag and the life outside Gulag. All of us, almost each and every one, we have someone who perished in Gulag. You know, for you guys, Gulag ended up with Khrushchev's speech in 1956. For us, it first ended up in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Then, when Putin and Medvedev got back in power, Gulag has been reinstated. We've had thousands and thousands of people who served their terms just because they happen to have a profitable business. The majority of us and many of us, especially non-intellectuals, we felt ourselves more aligned with people in the labor camp as opposed to those who guarded them.

Werman: Do you think Khodorkovsky, though, is really intent on aligning himself with the people who are suffering in labor camps, in these prisons, and perhaps more interested in just reminding the public of his situation and that he was a former oligarch and sometime soon he'll be out of there?

Albats: You know, I am not judging people's motives. I think, first of all, you said that he was sentenced first to 8 years in jail, and then he got another 7 years on the purely fabricated case. So most likely he's not going to get out of jail before 2017.

Werman: In the United States white-collared criminals like Khodorkovsky are often given an easy time in prison. What's his experience been in prison in this correctional facility No. 7 in Karelia?

Albats: Not your American or your British kind of prison. These are labor camps where people don't have very basic comforts. Russian jail customs and Russian labor camps is not just about depriving you from freedom, it's about depriving you from any dignity you have. I think that even though Khodorkovsky is a wealthy man, that he has all kinds of lawyers, his conditions in labor camp is, in a way, much worse than for the ordinary folks. Ordinary folks can buy certain things that you never can get for free. Khodorkovsky cannot, and firstly because he is not just the one who was sentenced to [???] years in jail. He's the one who is a personal enemy to the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, Mr. Putin.

Werman: Yevgenia Albats, the editor of New Times magazine in Moscow. Thanks very much for your time.

Albats: Okay. Thank you.