‘Ageing autocrat’ Vladimir Putin out to prove who’s top dog with Navalny arrest

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who fell foul of the Putin regime and served a decade behind bars as a result, has called on Western leaders to “act rather than talk” if they wanted to have any influence over the 68-year-old President in the wake of Mr Navalny’s detention. Mr Navalny’s arrest came as he flew back into Russia from Germany where he was treated for poisoning by a deadly nerve agent in an apparent assassination bid.

Putin feels he has to show he is the main animal in the herd

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

He has now been remanded in pre-trial detention for 30 days for violating the terms of a suspended jail sentence after appearing before a Moscow court.

The United Nations and Western governments had urged Moscow before the ruling to let him go and some countries have called for new sanctions on Moscow.

But the Kremlin insists Mr Navalny must face justice like any other citizen if he has done anything wrong – and bluntly warned the West to mind its own business.

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Mr Khodorkovsky, now living in exile in London, said: “Putin feels he has to show he is the main animal in the herd or people will believe that he is no longer the top dog.

“For an ageing autocrat, who rules through bandit groups and bandit methods, the law will never defend him.

“The only thing that defends Putin is the perception that he is the top dog – and that has been placed yet again in doubt.”

The 57-year-old, once Russia’s richest man, was arrested on a plane in Siberia in 2003 and jailed for tax evasion and fraud while his once-mighty Yukos oil company was split apart.

Cast as a common criminal by the Kremlin, Mr Khodorkovsky denied the charges and was released in 2013 after spending 10 years in custody.

He said he, like Mr Navalny, had to make a decision to return to Russia in 2003 even though he knew he would face arrest.

He said: “My situation was absolutely analogous. There was no other variant: either you surrender or you go back to fight – so Navalny did absolutely the right thing.”

After Yukos was brought to its knees by vast back tax claims by the state, it was carved up and ultimately its assets were snapped up by state-run oil companies.

Mr Khodorkovsky said the West should impose sanctions on individuals rather than on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which is being built between Russia and Germany and is seen in the West as a possible sanctions target.

He said he wanted to believe that Mr Navalny would be released but in reality he will face growing pressure from the Russian authorities.

Mr Khodorkovsky said: “The arrest of Navalny means that the Putin regime, his bandit regime, is moving to totalitarian methods of pressure on society.

“He could be given 10 years – that in summary is what we could see at this stage.

“Much will depend on how Russian society reacts.”

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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called for Mr Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional release”.

Mr Raab said: “It is appalling that Alexei Navalny has been detained on arbitrary charges.

“The UK Government calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

“Mr Navalny is the victim of a nerve agent attack and the Russian authorities should investigate and explain the use of a chemical weapon on Russian soil.”

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