The imprisoned Russian oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky said Wednesday that he wants to run for parliament in a December election, an ambition described by political analysts as hopelessly quixotic but which nonetheless would rankle President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin and keep Khodorkovsky's plight in the public eye.
"I advocate the right of every citizen of Russia to freely announce: The present Kremlin regime has exhausted itself and its days are numbered," Khodorkovsky, 42, said in a statement announcing his candidacy posted on his Web site. "A new generation of leaders must succeed Putin's disintegrating and decaying regime, a generation that has Russia's future in the third millennium in mind."
Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and the founder of Yukos Oil Co., was sentenced in May to nine years in prison for tax evasion and fraud in a politically charged trial that his supporters contend was orchestrated to silence a critic of Putin and remove a potential kingmaker in the opposition. Government officials deny the charge, saying they were simply prosecuting a rogue businessman.
Under Russian law, felons cannot run for parliament, but Khodorkovsky can legally seek public office because his sentence is under appeal.
The opportunity may be short-lived: The court last week scheduled a hearing for Sept. 14, which Khodorkovsky's attorneys said was an unusually accelerated schedule that appeared designed to quickly endorse his conviction and quash his electoral ambition. His desire to run has been rumored for weeks.
"The Moscow court is clearly in a hurry to have this hearing," said Karina Moskalenko, one of Khodorkovsky's attorneys. "Somebody ordered them to have the hearing on the 14th."
Moskalenko said she and other attorneys have filed only preliminary motions and expected much more time to examine the 450-volume case file before writing their final appeals.
Khodorkovsky said he would run in a special election in the University district of Moscow, a relatively liberal area where he might expect to draw healthy support if he got on the ballot, analysts said. A number of leading opposition figures have already said they would back him. And leaders in the opposition Yabloko party, which holds the seat in the current legislature, said they would probably not run a candidate in order to give Khodorkovsky a clear shot at winning.
"This is a project that cannot lose," said Igor Bunin, director of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow political research group. "When he can't run after the 14th, and that's certain, he can say that the Kremlin is scared. And for now he remains in political life, and nobody will forget about him. But it's a virtual candidacy. It doesn't exist and it won't exist."
Khodorkovsky hinted as much in the statement. "I am not fighting for a pass to get to the deputies' canteen or an office" in the parliament building, he said.
From the Moscow jail where he is being held, he has continued to draw public attention, most recently when he staged a hunger strike after his business partner, Platon Lebedev, who was on trial with him, was put in a punishment cell.