MOSCOW â€” Known for sometime sticking his foot in his mouth, US Vice President Joe Biden delivered another trademark gaffe Thursday by mangling the name of Russia’s most famous prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
In a somber 40-minute address to Moscow State University students that generated more giggles than rounds of applause, Biden tried to bash Russia for putting Khodorkovsky behind bars on what many believe are politically motivated charges.
At least that was the intent.
What came out was one of the more sensitive moments in recent Russia-US relations in which the entire hall seemed ready to help the desperately struggling US vice president pronounce Khodorkovsky’s name.
“Over the past few months our administration has spoken out against allegations of misconduct in the trial of… of, uh… the, um… excuse me… Khodor… Kovinsky,” said Biden, almost barking out the last word.
But Biden recovered quickly, adding a self-depreciating joke that instantly endeared him to the crowd.
“You can tell I did not do very well in Russian,” Biden said sheepishly.
But Biden closed on a rousing note, generating his first and only applause of the night by saying that he had no intention of hiding his displeasure over Khodorkovsky’s treatment and other alleged rights abuses.
“Some of you may say, well how can you say those things outloud, mister vice president, and expect a better relationship. They are necessary, to have a good relationship,” Biden said, getting his only applause of the night.
In jail since 2003 for fraud and tax evasion, a Moscow court in December extended the former Yukos oil executive’s sentence until 2017 after also finding Khodorkovsky guilty of money laundering and embezzlement.
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