News / Europe

Putin Moves to Pardon Political Prisoners Ahead of Winter Olympics

FILE - Jailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in the defendants' cage during a court session in Moscow in 2010.
FILE - Jailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in the defendants' cage during a court session in Moscow in 2010.
James Brooke
Vladimir Putin said Thursday he will amnesty Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a businessman long considered to be Russia’s most prominent political prisoner.

Once Russia’s richest man, Khodorkovsky crossed Putin in the early 2000s by building a political base to challenge the new president. Khodorkovsky, then an oil company president, was tried and convicted on economic charges. He has spent the last decade in jail.

New trial unlikely

Putin told journalists: “The order for the pardon will be issued and the person will be freed.”

Earlier, at a marathon, four-hour press conference, Russia’s president said that a new trial against Khodorkovsky would be unlikely.  

A truck leaves prison hospital number 1 where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot group is being held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 19, 2013.A truck leaves prison hospital number 1 where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot group is being held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 19, 2013.
x
A truck leaves prison hospital number 1 where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot group is being held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 19, 2013.
A truck leaves prison hospital number 1 where Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot group is being held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Dec. 19, 2013.
He also implied that Russia’s new amnesty law could apply to two other cases famous in the West. Two women from the Pussy Riot feminist group are serving jail sentences, and 28 members of Greenpeace face trial for protesting near Russia’s lone offshore oil platform in the Arctic.

These Christmas amnesties seem designed to remove points of friction with the West before the Winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia on February 7. The U.S., German and French presidents have all declined to attend the games.

Much Western criticism focuses on Russia’s new law against exposing minors to information about homosexuality. Gay activists say the law is part of a larger homophobic environment in Russia.

'Alien' values

When an American reporter asked about the law, President Putin responded: “For me, it’s important to protect our society from certain quasi-values, which are alien for our citizens.”

He accused gay groups of “imposing their views on other countries, and doing it in a quite aggressive manner.”

Russia’s president addressed another subject sensitive to many Americans -- Edward Snowden, the fugitive American computer expert. Six months ago, Snowden leaked to reporters millions of secret files from the National Security Agency, and then won asylum in Russia.  

At the press conference, Putin called Snowden “a noble” man.

“It is thanks to Snowden that a lot has changed somehow in the minds of millions of people, including in the minds of major contemporary political figures,” Russia’s leader said.

Putin’s press conference is an annual institution, broadcast nationwide, and attended by more than 1,000 reporters.

'Brotherly' act

At the outset, Russia’s president spoke forcefully to defend his bailout this week of neighboring Ukraine. Russia agreed to extend $15 billion in loans to Ukraine and to cut gas prices by one third.

Sensing that the bailout is not popular at a time when Russia’s economy is stagnating, Putin called the aid is a “brotherly” act toward the Ukrainian people, not a move to support Ukraine’s government.

“If we really say that the Ukrainian people are a brother people, and a brother country, then we are obliged to conduct ourselves as a close relative and help the Ukrainian people in this difficult situation,” he said.

Russia’s president denied that his massive aid program is designed to keep Ukraine from moving toward Europe.

"This has nothing to do with Maidan, nor Ukraine's talks with the European Union,” he said, referring to the occupation of a central square in Kyiv by pro-European protesters. “We just see that Ukraine is facing strong challenges and it has to be supported. We have such a capability and we are using it."

He argued that if Ukraine signed a free trade pact with Europe, its Soviet-era industry would collapse and the country would regress, becoming an eastern farming appendage to Europe.

Addressing Russian worries, he stressed that the $15 billion in loans would have to be paid back. Asked about loan guarantees, he only responded that a decade ago, Russia and Ukraine discussed joint administration of Soviet-era pipelines that carry natural gas from Russia to Europe through Ukraine.

Some analysts say that if Russia can win ownership of this pipeline network, it can abandon a $20 billion project to build an undersea pipeline that goes around Ukraine.

You May Like

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs