Vladimir Putin has revealed that he had received two handwritten letters from tycoon Boris Berezovsky, in which he “asked for forgiveness and to be able to return [to Russia]”.
The Russian President made the admission during a marathon phone-in session with the nation.
“He wrote that he had made many mistakes and asked to be forgiven and allowed to return to his homeland,” Mr Putin said, adding that the letters were “fairly personal” and that he did not respond to them.
Mr Berezovsky, 67, was found dead in his Berkshire mansion earlier this year. A coroner’s inquest found that he had died from hanging. The Russian tycoon was an outspoken critic of Mr Putin and had been living in the UK since 2000.
The President also denied that the first year of his new presidential term has seen an increase in “Stalinist” tendencies. He fielded questions for almost five hours during a televised meeting that was for the most part carefully choreographed.
“Stalin is linked with repression and prison camps, and there is nothing similar in Russia and I hope there will never be again,” said Mr Putin in response to one of the few hard-hitting questions he was asked. “Society is different. But that doesn’t mean that we should not have order and discipline.”
The Russian leader, who returned to the Kremlin last year, has been accused of a crackdown on civil society using a number of repressive laws and court cases against regime opponents. The election monitoring body, Golos, became the first NGO to fall foul of a law that requires any organisation receiving foreign funding to declare itself a “foreign agent”. The group was fined 300,000 roubles (£6,000). The President was asked whether the “political trials” of the Pussy Riot punk group and the blogger, Alexei Navalny, meant the country was regressing.
In one of the more surreal moments of the session, a family with 15 children were connected, and one of the children asked Mr Putin for a playground. By the end of the programme, the region’s governor had announced that plans were being made to build a new play area.
The leader also said he would order the prosecutor general to meet with a Siberian woman who had been refused access to her local prosecutor.