Putin trying to scare off protesters: jailed tycoon

Wed Feb 6, 2013 6:25am EST
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By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin is increasingly trying to intimidate ordinary Russians into abandoning protests against him to keep his grip on power, jailed former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said.

In replies to written questions by Reuters, dictated to lawyers during prison visits, Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, accused Putin of resorting to political repression to try to reassert his authority after 14 months of protests.

He said such efforts were destined to fail and Putin was pushing Russia into an era of economic and political stagnation comparable to the rule of late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

"Opposition to the current regime is growing and will continue to grow ... The risks for the regime are constantly increasing," said Khodorkovsky, who was convicted of multi-million dollar tax evasion, fraud and money laundering.

He has always denied the charges, which he says were politically motivated.

"A certain 'tightening of the screws' is undoubtedly going on. We see an expansion of old repressive practices, the creation of new ones and the preparation of a legal base in case there is a need to sharply curb civil rights and freedoms."

What was new in Putin's third term as president, he said, was the tactic of trying to scare people into not protesting.

"There is a clear widening of repressions against protesters who are not the most well-known opposition figures. Most likely the authorities want to scare common citizens, deter them from taking part in protests," he said.   Continued...

Jailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in the defendants' cage during a court session in Moscow in this April 5, 2010 file photograph. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor