Moscow (AFP) - Top Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Wednesday condemned Vladimir Putin's "scorched earth politics" as he presented the candidates he is backing for parliamentary elections in Russia later this year.
Ex-tycoon Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in jail after challenging Putin, openly stated his political ambitions in 2014 by announcing he would be ready, if called upon, to lead Russia in times of crisis.
Khodorkovsky, who lives in self-imposed exile in Europe, is fielding two dozen candidates in Russia's parliamentary elections to the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, and the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly in September through his Open Russia foundation.
"I'm very glad that in our country despite the scorched earth politics carried out by the authorities we have found young, able, politically active people who are ready to prove themselves as candidates for the State Duma," Khodorkovsky said by video link from London.
"Our project does not end with the September 18 elections. A considerable number of people here in the future definitely -- if they are consistent -- will come to power, I have no doubt of this.
"And whether it is in these elections or later -- in my view -- is much less important. They are the face of Russia's future and having known these people some time I can say I like this face much more than the one I see usually on television screens."
The parliamentary elections come amid a prolonged economic crisis due in part to the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions over Russia's role in Ukraine.
A presidential election is scheduled for 2018 and many expect Putin to seek re-election.
Young liberal Russians say they know elections will be rigged but hope support from Khodorkovsky's foundation will help create a new generation of politicians.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, coordinator for Open Russia, said that people often complain of a lack of choice in elections, and that the project was "a step towards creating that alternative".
- 'Thievish little hands' -
Khodorkovsky'a ally Yevgeny Chichvarkin, who co-founded one of Russia's biggest mobile phone companies, described the candidates as "people who are not afraid to speak out, who have a sense of social responsibility and a conscience."
Chichvarkin, who now lives in London, described Russia's current Duma as "a herd passing one after another laws that make people's lives more difficult" with their "thievish little hands."
Open Russia is backing 19 candidates for elections to the State Duma and five more candidates for the Saint Petersburg Assembly elections.
Among the candidates are 32-year-old Maria Baronova who participated in protests against Putin and disabled cycling champion Yaroslav Svyatoslavsky, 23.
Khodorkovsky openly supported a Ukrainian uprising that ousted a Moscow-backed president in 2014 but said he did not want a bloody revolt for Russia.
Separately, top opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the authorities had conducted new searches at his Moscow apartment.
He claimed the raid was top prosecutor Yury Chaika's way to "pay back" Navalny for his high-profile investigation into the wealth of Chaika's family.
"Putin supports this... because a new case would guarantee my non-participation in the elections," the anti-corruption campaigner wrote on his blog.