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Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov returns to politics

Prokhorov’s first attempt to enter politics ended badly for him

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who earlier this year tried unsuccessfully to revive the liberal party in Russia, is going to make another attempt to enter politics. The businessman announced his readiness to run for the president of Russia. The opposition and analysts suspect that this is one of the Kremlin’s projects aimed at easing the protest mood in society. Although there are also those who are happy there will be a candidate they will be able to vote for to demonstrate their protest.

"I have made up my mind, and this is probably the most important decision in my life," the owner of the Onexim group, Russia’s third richest person (see Forbes magazine list for 2011), told a news conference. Prokhorov has promised that after the election in 2012 he would create a new party from below. As for the presidential program, he decided to publish it after registration.

A day earlier, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin submitted to the CEC his application and other documents required for registration as candidate for the president of Russia from the party United Russia. Prokhorov decided to compete with him, although on December 8 he wrote in his blog: "Weather some like it or not, Putin is still the only one who somehow manages to run this inefficient state machinery." Prokhorov wrote that Prime Minister Putin must become "acting president", as this is consistent with his rating in society, will give him the necessary powers, and thus make it possible to hold fair elections.

According to the election law, for the registration of candidates by the CEC an initiative group is to meet in session before December 15 to nominate a candidate, and by January 18 2 million signatures should be collected in his support, which seems almost unreal. Prokhorov said that he spent the past few months on preparing an infrastructure for his nomination. He sees his potential voters in the middle class, and he is not going to build his election campaign on criticism of United Russia’s candidate Vladimir Putin.

Putin has been informed about Prokhorov’s statement, but has no plans for meeting with him in the near future, the prime minister’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told a news conference on Monday. Prokhorov himself said that since leaving the Right Cause project he had had no meetings with either the president or the head of government.

Prokhorov’s first attempt to enter politics ended badly for him. Leaving his business for the revival of the party Right Cause by agreement with the president and his staff Prokhorov three months later accused his former allies of a "raider seizure of the party", he slammed the first deputy head of the presidential staff, Vladislav Surkov, as "the Kremlin's puppet master," and promised to press for his resignation. Without Prokhorov the Right Cause in the parliamentary elections on December 4 showed the worst result of all - 0.6% of the votes.

Prokhorov’s statement coincided with an interview by Alexei Kudrin to the daily Vedomosti, in which the former deputy prime minister and finance minister, dismissed after a row, expressed the need for creating a new right-wing party and his willingness to support it. "I met with him (Kudrin) met on several occasions and we had discussions,” Prokhorov said. “In almost all respects our economic and political views are the same, but we have not yet achieved any particular result."

Prokhorov's decision to run for the presidency was not a surprise for candidate number one – Putin, a source in the know close to the presidential staff is quoted by the daily Vedomosti as saying. According to him, in spite of the scandal over the Right Cause the billionaire has kept in touch with Mr. Putin and his inner circle. This is a tactical decision, the source said: you need to reduce social tensions, ease the protest sentiment of the past week - after all, among the protesters in Moscow there were many members of the middle class, for whom Prokhorov might prove a distracting figure.

The Opposition’s leaders, too, believe that Prokhorov’s initiative is related to large-scale protests in Moscow and other cities.

A co-chair of the unregistered Party of Popular Freedom (PARNAS), Boris Nemtsov, has said that suggesting that "the billionaire announced his candidacy for the president without Putin’s consent is absolutely impossible." Speaking on behalf of the PARNAS party, he added: "We regard this game obscene, and we shall not participate in it."

A former co-chair of the Right Cause, Leonid Gozman, is quoted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying he welcomes "the existence of independent presidential candidates, because otherwise the elections will turn into a farce."

"If Prokhorov takes quite a tough stance, he will have good chances. But the situation is constantly changing, even a month ago it was impossible to imagine that United Russia would collect less than 50% of the votes. Prokhorov has a chance to collect signatures. "

Most political scientists tend to assume Prokhorov’s initiative has been agreed with the authorities. At this point the issue of the day is not actual participation in elections, but a "test of the protest sentiment" - whether protesters can be distracted by Prokhorov, says political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov. In his opinion, there are no more than 10-15% of such people, while the bulk of the protesters take more radical positions.

According to political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky, who is quoted by, Prokhorov’s nomination is "pure bluffing", addressed to the liberals who rallied in Bolotnaya Square. "After the rally in Bolotnaya Square, when it became clear that the urban educated class has revolted against the authorities and does not hide its attitude, the Kremlin put forward Prokhorov in order to neutralize the energy of this protest, to make everybody shed tears of joy at the sight of such a good candidate nominated for president," says the analyst.

Belkovsky rates the chances of Prokhorov’s election, let alone of the whole scheme itself, to succeed as very low. "Part of the progressive public will accept Prokhorov, but I think that today the resource of such provocations has been exhausted - the people who came to Bolotnaya Square, the people who understand what is happening in the country cannot be deceived that easily."

TV hostess Kseniya Sobchak was one of the first to respond to the news of Prokhorov’s nomination. "I’ve found out everything - Prokhorov was again called for attracting voters. All is agreed. The Kremlin realized that there must be an alternative," she wrote on Twitter. She was readily echoed by other Web users, who write that "all this is a trick" and the nomination of Prokhorov and the recent demonstrations were not a coincidence.

The chairman of the board of the Center for Political Technologies, Boris Makarenko, told the daily Izvestia he believes that in the current situation Prokhorov is a lifeline for the authorities. "They made a huge mistake, when they forced the young electorate, the middle class and city residents to vote for the left-wingers, after which the right-wingers lost chances to enter the State Duma. United Russia will have to deal with growing left-wing opposition. Now the ruling party will be trying to correct a mistake," the expert believes.


MOSCOW, December 13

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