* Khodorkovsky spent decades behind bars in Russia
* Former oil tycoon's speech could rile old foe Putin
* Khodorkovsky has offered to mediate in Ukraine
By Timothy Heritage
KIEV, March 9 Former oligarch Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, addressing thousands of people at the cradle of
the uprising against Ukraine's Moscow-backed leader, accused
Russia on Sunday of being complicit in police violence against
To chants of "Russia, rise up", Khodorkovsky, who was jailed
for a decade under President Vladimir Putin, told the crowd the
Kremlin was lying to its own people by portraying the protesters
as "neo-fascists" bent on violence.
Wearing a simple dark anorak and jeans, he addressed the
crowd from a stage in Kiev's Independence Square, occupied by
protesters since November despite police trying to oust them
with force which resulted in about 100 deaths.
"I have been shown what the authorities did here. They did
this in agreement with the Russian authorities - more than 100
dead, more than 5,000 wounded," Khodorkovsky told the crowd, who
waved back with Ukrainian flags.
"I've seen the plywood planks they used to stand up to the
bullets. It made me want to cry, it's so awful," he said, his
voice shaking with emotion.
The 50-year-old former executive, who fell out with Putin
more than a decade ago, said it was clear that the Kremlin
leader's portrayal of the protesters as dangerous extremists,
drummed home by Russia's state-controlled media, was false.
"Russian propaganda lies, as always. There are no fascists
or Nazis here, no more than on the streets on Moscow or St
Petersburg," he said. "These are wonderful people who stood up
for their freedom."
His remarks are likely to rile Putin because they undermine
the Kremlin leader's position in a standoff with the United
States and the European Union over Crimea, the Ukrainian Black
Sea peninsula seized by Russian forces.
Putin's justification for saying Russia has the right to
invade Ukraine if necessary is based on the premise that
Russians and Russian-speakers in the former Soviet republic are
threatened by "neo-fascists".
Putin denies his country is a participant in the conflict in
Ukraine and denies Russia's armed forces are involved in Crimea,
an assertion ridiculed in the West.
OFFER TO MEDIATE
Khodorkovsky arrived in Ukraine after offering to mediate in
the Crimea crisis, saying he was worried the country was on the
brink of civil war. He will deliver a lecture on Monday in Kiev,
the capital, but there is no indication that anyone has taken up
his offer to mediate.
Although he was arrested at a time when corruption was
particularly rife in Russia, Khodorkovsky was widely regarded
abroad as a political prisoner after being arrested at gunpoint
in 2003 and convicted of theft and tax evasion in 2005.
His oil company, Yukos, was broken up and sold off, mainly
into state hands. Eventually pardoned and freed by Putin in
December, he left the country immediately, saying he would not
get involved in politics.
His speech on Sunday, however, was highly political and
fiercely critical of Putin, with whom he fell out after defying
an order to wealthy businessmen to stay out of politics.
"I want you to know there is another Russia," Khodorkovsky
told the crowd, which responded at the end of his speech by
chanting "Well done."
"There are people who despite the arrests, despite the long
years they have spent in prison, go to anti-war demonstrations
in Moscow, people for whom friendship between the Russian and
Ukrainian people is stronger than their own freedom," he said.