20 years under Putin: a timeline

On April 24 a forum entitled “Ukraine-Russia: the Dialogue” opened in Kiev. It was organized by Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia Foundation, the Third Republic of Ukraine movement and the PEN club of Russia. Mikhail Khodorkovsky delivered an opening speech.



Dear friends and colleagues,

Over the last month, the most frequent question I've been asked was: Why hold this conference? How will it help Ukraine, which seems to be facing its toughest challenge since becoming an independent nation? What will our fellow Russian citizens think?

My response is the same as that which consistently helped me through ten long years: Do what you have to do, and come what may.

We have gathered here for different reasons, but above all, because we are in disagreement with President Vladimir Putin's policy on Ukraine.

We are also here to express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people whom the Kremlin regime is trying to prevent from building its own life.

Ukraine is going through hard times. However, I do not believe that a nation which has lived through two revolutions over the last decade and has stood, without flinching, at Maidan square under gunfire is willing to accept the loss of its statehood. Hence, we have reasons to be optimistic, not just for being worried.

We are here because we are enraged by the lies spread by Russian state-sponsored propaganda to its own citizens, and we want to tell the public what we see and hear for ourselves.

We are here to look one another in the eye and to say once again: No dictator, no matter how powerful, will turn us, independently-thinking individuals, into enemies.

Together, we are able and willing to tackle the most complex challenges that life puts before our nations.

Dear colleagues! At these workshops, we will be able to confer a plan for Ukraine that is similar to the Marshall plan; to discuss setting up a full-fledged European-style university on the basis of a leading Ukrainian higher education establishment; and to talk about cultural dialogue, about honestly informing society, and, of course, about a real effort at curtailing corruption.



Let me now say a few words, not as a co-sponsor of this forum, but in my personal capacity as Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The saddest thing for us, citizens of Russia, is that President Putin is not addressing global and strategic challenges. Once again, this time in Ukraine, he is using his office to avenge a personal grudge. He is offended by the revolution and because the thieving former President Yanukovich and his corrupt entourage have been forced into exile. The parallels hit too close to home for him.

As a result of these ambitions, Moscow would not be able to become the center of gravity of the Slavic universe for a long time, if not forever; in fact, the idea of unifying the Orthodox Church around Moscow has been put to rest and buried, and millions of our fellow countrymen abroad are facing hostility.

It is as if, instead of creating the North Atlantic Alliance, the US were to invade, let’s say, Canada, tell it how to structure its domestic relations, and pinch a couple of vegetable gardens.

By the way, as a result, one thousand years later, the Slavic center can once again return to Kyiv. I would be happy for Kyiv but, frankly speaking, as a Russian and a citizen of Russia, I root for Moscow.

In the 21st century, one can live by the rules of centuries past; one can, as before, continue to think in terms of territorial expansion by force, rather than along the lines of improving the quality of people's lives.

However, in the modern, globalizing world, it does not only appear weird and uncivilized, it is simply а losing behavior. Building Europe's biggest mosque in moderately-sized Chechnya or a sea bridge connecting the mainland to a peninsula instead of building highways, schools, and housing – things that are badly needed by Russians living outside the luxurious zip codes of Moscow – is the result of the "glorious victories" of the current regime.

One final thought.

As co-sponsor of this conference, I know only too well how difficult it was for many to come to Kyiv. It was difficult because of pressure from the authorities and because the majority of society has temporarily gone mad.

Friends! My personal experience over the last decade has taught me to operate for long periods of time and to never forget that dark times are always followed by the light of day, and that today's most impossible dreams become tomorrow's reality.

I take pride in my fellow countrymen who are capable of maintaining a sensible mind and thinking about my country's future and who are willing, for the sake of that future, to go against the opinion of the "aggressively obedient majority".

I wish all of you success in your work here.