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Published: Monday March 10, 2014 MYT 11:25:01 PM
Updated: Monday March 10, 2014 MYT 11:25:57 PM

Putin critic floats Scotland option for Crimea

KIEV (Reuters) - Scottish-style devolution could be the best solution for the crisis in Crimea, a former Russian oligarch and critic of President Vladimir Putin told an audience in Ukraine on Monday.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, released by Putin in December after a decade in jail, told university students in Kiev that giving the region the kind of autonomy from Ukraine that Scotland has inside the British state could ease Crimean demands for union with Russia, whose forces took over the peninsula a week ago.

Saying Moscow risked wrecking ties with its neighbour, the former oil magnate said: "The best option might be to keep Crimea within Ukraine, but with the broadest possible autonomy - for example, akin to what Scotland has within Great Britain."

Crimea, transferred from Russia to Ukraine in Soviet times and home to an ethnic Russian majority, already has the status of an autonomous republic. Local leaders who took power after last month's overthrow of Ukraine's pro-Moscow president have called a referendum for Sunday to seek union with Russia.

Khodorkovsky, 50, has offered to mediate in the crisis, though so far to little apparent effect.

Jailed for fraud after challenging Putin, Khodorkovsky was widely seen in the West as a political prisoner. Having left Russia on his release after being pardoned, he said he would not involve himself in politics, but arrived in Kiev last week saying he wanted to help avert war in the former Soviet state.

On Monday, he said Russia risked damaging itself by "adopting 19th-century practices of settling territorial disputes" and described himself as a staunch defender of Russia's own national, state interests, including against separatist movements in its Muslim North Caucasus regions.

"I call on my compatriots to defend land that belongs to Russia, including in the North Caucasus, including by force of arms," he said. "I must recognise that the Ukrainian people also have that right."

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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