German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Friday a role played "behind the scenes" by former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in helping to secure the release of Kremlin critic and Russian ex-oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

"The German government appreciates the efforts of former federal minister Genscher who worked intensively on the case behind the scenes," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

"He worked successfully on possibilities for a solution with a great level of commitment and the support of the chancellor and the foreign ministry."

Genscher, 86, said in a statement he had decided to support Khodorkovsky’s case "for humanitarian reasons", having met him several times in the past.

Genscher, who served as Germany's top diplomat from 1974 to 1992, said he welcomed the pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he said he had met twice to discuss the Khodorkovsky case, saying in a statement that the decision was "significant and encouraging for other cases".

He also thanked Merkel, a fellow German former foreign minister and the German ambassador in Moscow for lending "the greatest possible support" to his efforts.

Genscher, who arranged the flight on a private jet from Russia and picked Khodorkovsky up at the airport in Berlin, told news website Spiegel Online that Khodorkovsky was doing well under the circumstances.

"He is exhausted but very happy to finally be free," he said by telephone, adding that Khodorkovsky now wanted to rest and would stay out of the public eye.

Spiegel said Khodorkovsky could be heard in the background talking to friends and relatives by phone.

It said he had received a visa that would allow him to stay for one year in the Schengen passport-free zone.


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