West should have armed Ukraine years ago to prevent Russian invasion, Khodorkovsky says

The West should have acted years ago by arming Ukraine with weapons and imposing severe sanctions on Russia — a move that would have “100 percent” deterred Vladimir Putin from launching his invasion earlier this year, says Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled oligarch dissident.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man before his Kremlin persecution and imprisonment, said Western governments bear “significant responsibility” for the conflict in Ukraine for failing to act against President Putin after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. .

The former oil and gas tycoon, who at one point had a personal fortune estimated at £12.38 billion, likened the West’s passivity to a mobster slapping and handing over money.

“If a mobster comes up to you, not just any London hooligan, but a real mobster, and he punches you in the face, all you can do is give him your wallet and hope he doesn’t take your pants off. ” told Mr. Khodorkovsky to the independent

“Of course there is a great responsibility. The annexation of Crimea in 2014. People decided they could just keep going.

“Putin saw it as a sign of weakness. And we have what we have.”

In February 2014, Russia captured the Crimean peninsula — laying the foundations for the current war — in a violation of international law widely condemned by the Western world.

Russia was expelled from the G8 and was subject to a series of economic sanctions as a result of the annexation. Russian officials were hit by travel and transaction bans, foreign assets were frozen and bilateral talks on military affairs, space and visa requirements were halted.

Further sanctions were imposed as the war in Donbas escalated in 2014, but the west has never attempted to curtail the Russian economy to the extent it has now, nor were weapons and military equipment readily supplied to the Ukrainian government.

By failing to do so, the Kremlin was encouraged to launch an invasion of the country nearly a decade later, Khodorkovsky believes.

“If they had imposed the sanctions then as they have now, and if the Ukrainians had been given the military weapons as they have been given now, then with 100 percent probability Putin would not have started a war,” he said. † “But what happened, happened.”

But Khodorkovsky, who was robbed of his wealth by the Kremlin and thrown in prison in 2003 for challenging the Putin regime, also questioned how the current package of sanctions slowed down the Russian war machine.

The International Monetary Fund expects a 10 percent contraction of Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) as a result of the measures, but analysts do not believe they have been effective militarily.

Some have also argued that the recovery of the Russian currency since last month and the central bank’s recent cuts to previously skyrocketing interest rates show Moscow is bucking the sanctions regime.

“I don’t think sanctions are possible today to stop the war,” said Khodorkovsky, now a leading Kremlin critic after his release from prison in 2013. “They will limit Putin’s militaristic capabilities, but not now — on a later stage.

“The only way to help Ukraine is through weapons and training Ukrainian military. That’s all.”

Despite the need to continue supporting Ukraine, countries are beginning to turn their attention to the war, Khodorkovsky added. “It’s a problem, a problem, and Putin understands that. He uses time as his prop.”

Nevertheless, NATO announced this week that it would increase the number of high-prepared forces to more than 300,000 from 40,000 – the biggest overhaul of the alliance’s defenses since the Cold War.

The military alliance also confirmed that it will expand the deployment of troops in European member states closest to Russia and strengthen air defenses.

Khodorkovsky said NATO was seen in the eyes of Kremlin officials as weak and unwilling to act if Russia invaded its Baltic neighbors — countries President Putin still considers part of the “motherland.”

If such a scenario were to unfold, it would mean the “symbolic” end of NATO as an institution, Khodorkovsky added. “Many countries that are now part of NATO will decide that it is not a guarantee of our security,” he said.