Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Belfast International Airport on June 17, 2013 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. - 

Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual year-end press conference was hours long, but the real news came after it was over.

Putin told a reporter he plans to pardon a high-profile political opponent, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Once an oil tycoon, Khodorkovsky has spent 10 years behind bars on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

"His [Khodorkovsky's] mother is ill now and that is why he is asking for a pardon. His lawyer and his representatives say they were unaware of any such request," says the BBC's Rafael Saarkov, who was at the press conference. "So it's still mysterious and it was really a big surprise for everybody."

Suspicions are that Putin's showing his softer side leading up to the Olympics in Sochi in February.

Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal