Exiled Russian oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky told BBC's Emily Maitlis that Russia's president is surrounded and controlled by criminal gangs, who may have more power than Putin himself. Khodorkovsky is the head of the Open Russia Foundation --based on George Soros's Open Society Foundation-- and now resides in the UK, where last week another Russian exile and his daughter were the targets of a chemical weapons attack that British authorities blame on Russia.
"It looks as if either the secret service [GRU] without the approval of the Kremlin, or secret service with the approval of the Kremlin," Khodorkovsky said of the source of the attack. "I have been thinking about it, and I don't know which is worse. Either Putin has given his consent to this operation, or he doesn't control the secret service to such an extent that they can do it without his approval."
"There is a very small group inside the Kremlin, in our opinion up to 100 people, who are the main beneficiaries of the Putin regime, and who knowingly act as a criminal gang," the Russian exile said. "The criminal gang in the Kremlin can sometimes call on the services of the GRU. But the secret service may sometimes decide that they've done enough for the criminal gang, and act on their own initiative as they see fit."
He said it is an "interesting question" to ask if Putin controls this gang, or if the gang controls Putin. "Until about three or four years ago, I would have said unequivocally yes, he controls them, he is the main boss of the gang. Now, I would be more circumspect. Today, in my opinion, this inner circle within the criminal gang has learned how to manipulate [Putin] quite effectively, and we have seen this demonstrated a number of times."