Long-time Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky has a vision for the future of Russia, and it looks something like the United States. Along with a “constitutional republic” and decentralized government, Khodorkovsky believes an armed citizenry will help secure freedom for the people of Russia.
“I think that if we want to be a free people then people should have weapons,” he said in an interview with Current Time TV, as reported by RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty.
“And these weapons should allow them not to defend themselves from criminals,” he continued. “Criminals should be dealt with by the politicians working in conjunction with law enforcement authorities. The people should have weapons to defend themselves from their own government.”
Khodorkovsky claims to be personally familiar with the threat to freedom posed by a tyrannical government. He was Russia’s richest man until the early 2000s, when he ran afoul of the Kremlin and spent 10 years in prison on fraud and embezzlement charges. His supporters, along with most observers, believe the charges were politically motivated.
He was released in 2013 (just prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia) and now runs the pro-democracy Open Russia foundation in London.
Khodorkovsky says that he lives in fear of his life but does not employ a personal security detail, according to the Guardian. He told the news service that if Putin wants him dead “no amount of security measures can prevent that,” and he reiterated that idea to Current Time TV.
“I know that in the current situation if Putin were to decide to have Aleksei Navalny or me, or anyone, killed, then it is doubtful we’d be able to defend ourselves. But for whatever reason that decision hasn’t been made,” Khodorkovsky said.
Still, he “dreams” of one day seeing Russia become a “constitutional republic” with power spread among the regions in a more decentralized system. He wants to see 10 or 12 large urban centers “minimally,” rather than one megapolis in Moscow.
“The idea that this will lead to the collapse of Russia, I completely reject. That’s because the country’s territorial profile would mean that if one part were to break away, its future would likely be bleak,” Khodorkovsky predicts.
Russian citizens are permitted to own firearms, but the process is onerous and relies on the say-so of local, sometimes corrupt police departments. According to the Library of Congress, “Russian legislation on gun control is relatively strict, limiting the circulation of firearms to Russian citizens older than eighteen years of age with a registered permanent residence, and for the purposes of self-defense, hunting, and sports activities only.”
Purchasing a firearm requires acquiring a five-year license from the local police and are only granted after a thorough background check, including a review of the petitioner’s ability to store guns safely and an evaluation of his/her medical records.
As of 2012, 6.3 million nonmilitary weapons had been registered in Russia with a population of 142.5 million people. For comparison, U.S. citizens hold approximately 393 million firearms with a population of 326 million people.