(NEW YORK) — Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former oligarch and one of Vladimir Putin’s best-known critics, has campaigned for years to end the Russian leader’s rule.

Over the weekend, as Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellious fighters advanced towards Moscow, Khodorkovsky stood out among Russia’s liberal pro-democracy opposition in calling for people to support the mercenary revolt and to seize upon it as a chance to finally bring down Putin’s autocratic regime.

Despite it fizzling hours later, Khodorkovsky told ABC News that Prigozhin’s uprising had exposed Putin’s regime as extraordinarily weak and showed Russia’s democratic opposition should prepare now to take advantage of similar opportunities.

“A change in regime has become far more possible,” Khodorkovsky told ABC News by Zoom on Sunday. “We are far closer than two days ago. It has completely clearly demonstrated to everyone and to the democratic opposition, that the regime is weak, that it’s possible to use that weakness, that the regime in practically on the floor.”

“Now there will definitely be more such opportunities. But the next time, we just need to be more ready,” he said, adding that the democratic opposition should arm itself to be able to take advantage of them.

The weekend’s “situation showed that minimal armed formations are enough for the question of the transfer of power to be opened,” said Khodorkovsky.

He added, “The whole question is who will seize hold of that transfer of power. And the democratic opposition have every opportunity to seize hold of it, if only it will stop viewing the necessity to act with weapons as some kind of taboo.”

Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon once believed to be the wealthiest man in Russia, was arrested in 2003 on fraud and tax evasion charges and spent a decade in prison camps. His arrest was seen as a watershed moment for Putin’s regime, with the charges widely considered by his supporters and independent observers as retaliation for his efforts to enter politics and challenge Putin.

He was freed in 2013 after Putin pardoned him, and since then has helped bankroll efforts from abroad to support democratic efforts in Russia and undermine Putin’s rule.

Khodorkovsky said he had no doubt Prigozhin’s actions were a real coup attempt, saying “conspiracy theories” that it had been coordinated with Putin’s consent were being put out by the Kremlin as “damage control.”

Prigozhin declared a rebellion against Russia’s senior military leadership last Friday night, leading thousands of Wagner fighters into Russia from eastern Ukraine and by Saturday morning seizing the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. Columns of his troops then marched north towards Moscow, brushing aside attacks from Russian military aircraft and helicopters.

But on Saturday evening, 120 miles from the capital, Prigozhin abruptly halted his march and announced his forces were returning to camp, after a deal was reportedly brokered with the Kremlin through Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Khodorkovsky said he believed Prigozhin had turned back because he understood his lacked the forces to seize Moscow, after other Russian military and security services units didn’t join him. The deal with the Kremlin was possible because Putin’s government was also looking for an exit from the crisis, understanding how destabilizing it was, he said, even if it was clear Prigozhin ultimately couldn’t win.

But he said Prigozhin’s almost unimpeded advance had destroyed the belief that Putin has mass support from the Russian public or that Russians were willing to sacrifice themselves for him.

“All along the route of the Wagner columns no one tried to hinder him, even the security services didn’t try to hinder him,” said Khodorkovsky. “That showed in fact that inside the country Putin has absolute void.”

Khodorkovsky faced criticism from other figures in the opposition for his calls to assist Prigozhin, an accused war criminal who has called for Russia to become more like North Korea.

He said he was calling only for democratic forces to use Prigozhin as a tool for bringing down Putin’s regime, saying Prigozhin is a “bandit and a war criminal.”

“Not to support Yevgeny Prigozhin. But to use the situation that he created,” he said, saying some democratic opposition had “slept through” the opportunity.

“If an uprising had started in Moscow to meet Prigozhin, say, then the situation could quite well have developed differently,” he said. “It was clear he would never have received any power personally, but it was possible to use this situation.”

Asked whether it meant he himself was now trying to form armed units, Khodorkovsky turned the question aside.

“Let’s not ascribe things to me I haven’t said,” he said. “Every person has their function. I’m a person who has quite minimal relation to the formation of armed structures. Nonetheless, I understand very well what has to be done. But no one is going to who or how it will be done no one will say publicly.”

He added, “The only problem for the democracy movement is that it has to take weapons in its hands. It doesn’t necessarily have to use them, as the mutiny showed, but it must take them up.”

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