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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Putin Says He Will Pardon Jailed Oil Tycoon

Russia's President Vladimir Putin listens to a question during his annual press conference in Moscow on December 19, 2013. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin listens to a question during his annual press conference in Moscow on December 19, 2013. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held his annual, highly-choreographed news conference today, but the biggest news came after it ended.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian former oil billionaire, was imprisoned on charges of tax evasion and fraud. He is considered the best known Russian political prisoner. (khodorkovsky.com)

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian former oil billionaire, was imprisoned on charges of tax evasion and fraud. (khodorkovsky.com)

Putin told reporters he would pardon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a surprise decision that will let his top foe — and formerly the richest man in Russia — out of prison after more than a decade.

That move, along with the passage of an amnesty bill that will likely free the two jailed members of the Pussy Riot punk band and the 30-member crew of a Greenpeace ship, appears designed to ease international criticism of Russia’s gay rights record ahead of February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Earlier this week, President Obama appointed two openly gay representatives to attend the games, which Obama will not attend.

Edward Lucas, international editor for The Economist, discusses Putin’s conference with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

We also revisit our interview last month with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s son, Pavel Khodorkovsky.

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