MOSCOW- Mikhail Khodorkovsky may have trouble recognising Russia should he ever decide to return after a decade in prison that saw his oil empire dismantled and political ambitions smothered by arch foe Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin supremo pardoned post-Soviet Russia's most famous inmate in an apparent bid to mute criticism of his own rights record ahead of February's Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
Khodorkovsky's release on Friday came only eight months ahead of schedule but still crucially saved the 50-year-old from the threat of more charges to keep him jailed through the remainder of Putin's third term.
He flew to Germany in a cloud of secrecy and said this weekend that he would avoid his homeland for as long as a court order for him to pay $550 million in damages remained in place.
"Our authorities can honestly say that they did not send me into exile and that I asked for it," he said in reference to an appeal for clemency in which he cited his desire to see his cancer-stricken mother in Germany.
"But knowing our realities, we can absolutely precisely understand that they wanted me out of the country."
Should Russia's former richest man decide to return, he would find a different country, in which Putin and his clique wield even greater power than before.