LONDON (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin will survive Western sanctions and lower oil prices but the Kremlin chief has brought such stagnation that Russia could eventually collapse, former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky said on Thursday.
Russia’s richest man, who was arrested in 2003 after falling foul of Putin and released in 2013, told Reuters that Putin could survive oil prices of $45 per barrel but that the longer he stayed in power the greater the risks for Russia.
He said Putin, who became Kremlin chief on the last day of 1999, had shunted Russia back to the stagnation which sapped the power of the Soviet Union in the 1970s under Leonid Brezhnev.
“Russia has plunged back into a situation similar to the end of the 1970s,” Khodorkovsky told Reuters in London. “We are in the final stages of the Brezhnev stagnation period. Putin is younger so unfortunately this [stagnation] may last longer.”
Khodorkovsky, who once controlled Russia’s biggest oil company, YUKOS, said he thought the West would ease sanctions on Russia eventually under pressure from business.
“If you are asking whether Russia will survive in its current borders when Putin goes, then I would say the chances of it surviving if he goes in the next 5-8 years are bigger than if he goes in the next say 15 years,” Khodorkovsky said.
“I am talking about the survival of Russia in its current borders,” he said.
Khodorkovsky said Russia’s political and economic situation was not tense enough for a revolution in the short term as living standards have not fallen steeply enough to anger the population.
“Putin has a good chance of remaining in power for a long period of time,” he said.
Putin wants to use the crisis in Syria to edge Russia towards a rapprochement with the West after a stand-off over Ukraine brought relations between the two sides to their lowest since the Cold War, Khodorkovsky said.
“Just by the time when the reserves will be running out, sanctions will be lifted on Russia,” he said.
But he added: “There is a fundamental problem which will hamper the rapprochement: ... Authoritarian leaders commit mistakes without understanding that they are committing them,” he said of Putin.
Khodorkovsky sidestepped questions about whether he would ever run for the Russian presidency himself, saying he was interested in social and civil society activity.
“(Being President) It is like asking me if I’m ready to fly to Mars: The likelihood of me being chosen to fly to Mars is very small,” Khodorkovsky said.
Khodorkovsky, was convicted of tax evasion and fraud in a Moscow trial which he said was motivated by enemies who wanted to rip apart his company and punish him for his political ambitions.
He always denied the charges. YUKOS was crippled with massive back-tax claims and then its main Siberian oil production units were sold off by the state, only to be bought later by state-controlled companies.
He told Reuters he now mostly resided in London.
“I cannot give you short-term forecasts about Russia but if we are talking about the next ten years then we should expect revolutionary changes,” he said.
Editing by Louise Ireland