Speaking to NBC News in an exclusive interview, former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky said former President Donald Trump’s tenure damaged the United States’ reputation among ordinary Russians.
Trump was caught in the crosshairs of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 general election for much of his presidency. He also faced harsh criticisms for his deferential relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, propping up the U.S.-Russia relationship despite Russian aggression undermining and threatening the West.
Khodorkovsky said Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and his choice to incite an insurrection against Congress last month “dealt a blow to the reputation of America as the moral leader in the world, particularly in the eyes of the Russian public.” He suggested President Joe Biden should use targeted sanctions against those close to Putin.
“Western leaders shouldn’t deal with Putin as a leader,” Khodorkovsky continued. “They should understand that the man in front of them is a mafia boss, a totalitarian ruler, a godfather.”
Khodorkovsky is one of Putin’s strongest critics and was the victim of his political retaliation. He was arrested in 2003 and charged with fraud. Once believed to be Russia’s richest man, much of Khodorkovsky’s fortune vanished once Putin froze shares of Khodorkovsky’s oil and gas company Yukos. The company collapsed; Khodorkovsky was later found guilty of embezzlement and money laundering in addition to the fraud charge. He was pardoned by Putin and released from prison in 2013. He lived first in Switzerland before moving to London. He has relaunched Open Russia, an organization dedicated to advancing human rights and democracy in Russia.