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Reuters: Inside Germany's Campaign to Free Khodorkovsky

Author: Michelle Martin and Lidia Kelly
December 26, 2013

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"The Kremlin source told Reuters that for Putin, Khodorkovsky would have been much more of a headache if he served his sentence and was released as scheduled. If he were to stay in Russia, he would attract more attention for longer, which could empower him, the source said, adding that this way, Putin had closed his way back to Russia."

One spring day in 2011 five people gathered around a small table at the Adlon Hotel in Berlin and hatched the beginnings of a plan to get former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky out of prison.

Seated in a corridor of the five-star hotel's lobby, former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and his advisor Alexander Rahr put their heads together with Khodorkovsky's lawyers and Alexandra Hildebrandt, head of a Berlin Wall museum.

They decided Genscher, who was trusted by the Germans, supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel and well known to the Russians, in part due to the role he played in negotiations on German reunification, would launch a behind-the-scenes diplomatic offensive.

It was the start of a concerted German effort that reached from Genscher to the top of the Chancellery, to apply pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to free Khodorkovsky, who had been jailed in 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges but who was considered by many in the West to be a political prisoner.

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