Vladimir Putin has freed famous oil-tycoon-turned-Kremlin-critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, after announcing he would do so yesterday. Putin signed a pardon that allowed for Khodorkovsky's release today on the basis of "the principles of humanity," reports the BBC, which confirms Khodorkovsky left prison after eating lunch. Putin's foes have long held up Khodorkovsky's prosecution and imprisonment as examples of his abuse of power. (The BBC has a profile of Khodorkovsky here.) Yesterday, Putin said he'd never freed him because until now, he hadn't asked, the BBC reports. "He has already been in detention more than 10 years, this is a serious punishment," Putin pointed out. "He is referring to humanitarian circumstances as his mother is ill."
But Khodorkovsky, his mother, and his lawyers all denied that he'd requested the pardon, Reuters reports, and he had previously said that such a request would essentially be an admission of guilt. The initial news came a day after Russia's lower house passed an amnesty bill that could free as many as 25,000 prisoners—possibly including the jailed Pussy Rioters and Greenpeace protesters, the New York Times reports. Both moves are widely seen as attempts to deflect international criticism ahead of the Sochi Olympics. Khodorkovsky's release is also "good for the investor perception of Russia," one analyst told Bloomberg, and indeed Russian stocks rose 1.3% on the initial news. (Read more Mikhail Khodorkovsky stories.)