Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the only billionaire jailed by Vladimir Putin, is assembling an army of volunteers to challenge the electoral system that supports his nemesis. Accusations of murder and poisoning are already flying. Khodorkovsky, freed 18 months ago, has said he hopes to spark a palace coup from self-imposed exile in Switzerland, exploiting what he predicts will be rising discontent with a contracting economy. He’s starting with a project to hunt for violations in the first major elections Putin and his ruling United Russia party will face since the president returned to the Kremlin in 2012 after a four-year stint as prime minister.
The tycoon, who says his 10-year imprisonment for financial crimes was retribution for funding Putin’s opponents, is teaming up with Golos, a vote monitor whose reports of fraud in the 2011 contest for parliament helped trigger the biggest protests of the Russian leader’s 15-year rule. “Monitoring elections will be seen as a provocation,” said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia foundation and Moscow-based Golos plan to dispatch 1,000 observers each to regional polls in September and thousands more for early legislative elections next year, as well as the presidential vote due in 2018 that may give Putin another six years in power. Khodorkovsky is funding the project with some of the $100 million he says is left from a fortune that once stood at $15 billion.