There are many unknowns ahead for Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but he's ready for the future

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Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: Mikhal Khodorkovsky flew to Germany after his release last week. Yesterday, he granted an hour-long interview to Russian-speaking journalists. Alison Smale of the New York Times was there, and got to see the former oil tycoon upclose.

Alison Smale: He looked physically very well. Obviously he has a fairly good constitution, and he also made a point of emphasizing that, yes, Russian prison is certainly no picnic, but that really this is not the gulag of the Soviet era literature that we have all read.

Hills: Did he say how prison affected him? I mean, were there any big lessons learned by spending all that time there.

Smale: There was one passage where he said that he had learned, truly, that the most important thing in life is other people. The biggest loss, he said, of the past ten years is ten lost years of communication with his family. And he also waxed eloquent about how once he had seen value in industrial possessions, but that now he knows it's human beings that are above all important.

Hills: Now, he was the richest man in Russia before he went to prison. Not so anymore. Does Khodorkovsky have any money left?

Smale: He said yesterday that he honestly doesn't know, actually, what his financial state is, but what he did say was that it's certainly enough to live on, he said with a little smile.

Hills: Did he give any sign that he's going to try to get back any wealth that he lost?

Smale: He made very clear that went he wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin, at the suggestion of the former German foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, that he had made clear he would not engage in day to day politics, because he said he's not interested in the fight for power in that sense. He also made clear that he wouldn't be trying to get back his shares of his company, that are now part of a company called Rosneft, headed by a Putin ally, Igor Sechin.

Hills: Now, you mentioned Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the former German foreign minister who played a key role in getting Khodorkovsky released. What was the German interest in this, and how did it get started?

Smale: Well, I think the German interest is just a broad German interest. Certainly the Kremlin doesn't have ties with any other country quite the way it has ties with Germany. These are the two powers of central and eastern Europe. They have, over the centuries, been friends, they've been enemies, but what they always are, are near neighbors. They've been trading partners for forever, and it's always something that is very important, for the leader of each country, to be seen to be having good ties with the leadership of the other country.

Hills: I guess my final question is, is Khodorkovsky going to stay in Germany, and is his family there with him? Is this now his new home?

Smale: I think it's absolutely unclear, frankly. He clearly could stay here, but I--this was a man who, when we spoke, had spent, you know, not even 48 hours in freedom after ten years in Russian prison and being tried in Russian courts. So I think it's not surprising if perhaps he hasn't made up his mind about anything, or if he has made up his mind, that he's not letting other people know before he really has a chance to reconnect with his nearest and dearest.

Hills: Alison Smale is the Berlin bureau chief for the New York Times. Alison, thank you so much.

Smale: Thank you.