"I would not be interested in becoming Russia's president
if my country was developing normally..."
Hard to tell for sure what the thought process was there -perhaps feeling strong and aiming to soften his image a bit- but Putin at the time explained 'Ten years in prison is a serious punishment' and signed the form that freed Khodorkovsky from a decade of harsh detention.
This was perhaps all a surprise to him too, yet the man seemed to have a plan in-place: immediately upon release, Khodorkovsky gathered his family and flew off to Switzerland, where he maintained a low profile (up until now).
And they never returned to Russian territory since, with the former tycoon even forced to skip his own mother's Russian funeral last month over security concerns.
Yet, did Putin underestimate him? At an appearance in Berlin on Saturday, Khodorkovsky -still worth $170M, even after his business interests were stolen from under him- re-founded his Russian opposition movement, 'Open Russia' (it's previous incarnation in the Russian Federation had it's assets frozen by the Kremlin in 2006). This one will be based (hopefully) outside the Kremlin's grasp, but still-- if I was him I think I'd be making my own tea for awhile.
Khodorkovsky's proposals basically consist of steering Russia in a 180-degree turn from the current reckless direction, instead orientating towards Europe and the West ASAP, diplomatically, legally, and economically... as Ukraine has been struggling to do (under the claw of the Russian bear) for some time now.
For this to happen, the former oil baron states the obvious, that power must be moved away from the Presidency and towards the (now rubber-stamp) parliament, the courts, and furthermore the electorate via constitutional reform.
Official lies and propaganda must be ceased, wars of aggression stopped, corruption eliminated, and rule of law established for any kind of widespread prosperity/progress to ever take hold in Russia.
If anybody knows all this, it's Khodorkovsky: before he ran afoul of the Kremlin, Yukos was Russia's most successful businessman, and a pioneer in adopting Western accounting practices/corporate transparency, which led to Yukos being listed on the NYSE, even.
Far from looting the country's assets, he realized the path to serious wealth laid not just in exploiting the oil resources they were blessed with, but by operating Yukos in an honest, open, and efficient way while investing profits -taking the long view- to boost the stock price in a legitimate fashion.
When they took him down, not only did Putin and allied political/business elites build 'vast empires of wealth' in nationalizing Yukos (and other private companies), Khodorkovsky adds that the country still detains numerous political prisoners- in many ways little changed from the days of USSR.
As dopey Putin apologists in the West tell you 'the Soviet Union is never coming back', 'He wouldn't really nuke Poland', and/or note towering domestic approval ratings, war protests are now mounting within Russia: seems that despite recent flag-waving, most people there realize that a small political elite control everything, corruption runs rampant, and poverty is actually increasing, but all Putin seems to care about is foreign meddling/conquest and restoring some vague concept of Russian 'glory' while taking real, real good care of himself..
Remove the war-fever, USSR-nostolgia, and current flood of domestic Kremlin propaganda, and most Russian people probably want exactly what Khodorkovsky wants- if anything, they're jealous of counties like Poland, Estonia, and the Czech Republic, who thrived by turning from Russia's iron grip to the ways of the West. But hey Ivan, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...
If I were a regular, non-connected Russian- I'd have to wonder what Russia possibly has to lose in giving the motivated, brilliant, and successful capitalist a shot: the reforms he proposes make sense, the guy is willing to take-on the job... and Heaven knows the current path is surely unsustainable.