Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announces presidential bid
The move, which he called the “most serious decision in his life”, instantly brought speculation that it was a Kremlin-approved move to divert attention away from the growing protest movement.
Although Mr Prokhorov, a Russian metals tycoon, avoided criticising Mr Putin, the prime minister, he appealed to those who have come out in their droves to protest parliamentary elections widely seen as rigged in favour of the Kremlin-backed party, United Russia.
“I think that society has woken up,” said Mr Prokhorov. “The section of the authorities who do not start a dialogue with society will have to go.”
It is the second attempt by him to move into politics. Mr Prokhorov, who also owns the professional basketball team the New Jersey Nets, was ousted from the liberal party Right Cause in September. He called it a plot organised within the Kremlin.
He said he had been preparing for his run in the months since his bitter parting.
Presidential candidates have to get two million signatures to run, a difficult and expensive task. Even after that, it is almost impossible to get on the ballot without the Kremlin giving the go-ahead.
He said that he had not spoken to President Dmitry Medvedev or Mr Putin nor with Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin political fixer who he blamed for the failure of the Right Cause project, which was itself started by the Kremlin.
“My plan is to become his boss. I will figure it out from there,” he joked.
Opposition leaders immediately criticised his announcement as a cynical move to take the steam out of the protests.
“Prokhorov’s task is agreed with the Kremlin and it is to show himself as the leader of those people who came out on Bolotnaya,” wrote Marina Litvinoch, an opposition activist, on her blog, referring to Bolotnaya Square, where up to 50,000 gathered on Saturday.
Just a few days before his announcement, Mr Prokhorov wrote on his blog that “Whether you like it or not, Putin is the only person who can control this ineffective state machine.”
One state TV channel, which is strictly under the control of the Kremlin, ran the story as its first item on the evening news.
His announcement came as Alexei Kudrin, the former finance minister and longtime ally of Mr Putin’s called for the creation of a liberal party to fill a void in Russian politics exposed by the mass protests.
Mr Kudrin, who was ousted earlier this year by Dmitry Medvedev, said if it gained support, it could offer a way for Mr Putin to channel discontent. He also warned that any presidential victory for Mr Putin would be undermined by any failure to address protesters’ allegations of fraud.
The opposition movement on Monday launched a Facebook page for their latest protest on Dec. 24 planned for a site by St. Basil’s cathedral.
Organisers have applied for permission for 50,000 people. More than 6,000 had said they would attend by late afternoon on Monday.
Mr Prokhorov would have little chance in beating Mr Putin even if the election was completely honest with oligarchs looked upon suspiciously by most of Russia’s population. His entry would make a second round more likely though, said opposition activist Vladimir Milov, welcoming it for that reason.
A spokesman for Mr Putin said that Mr Putin knew of the announcement but said that there was no reaction. He also dismissed the protestor’s accusations in the first detailed response to their charges.
“Even if you put all the so-called falsifications together, then they will only make up 0.5 per cent of the total number of votes,” he said. “It would not effect in anyway the question of the legitimacy of the election and the overall result.”
Kremlin youth groups rallied in support of the government Monday in front of the Kremlin Police said that 25,000 turned out but reporters put the figure at under 5,000. The venue was empty within 90 minutes of the start.
Meanwhile, Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger considered a possible opposition leader and presidential candidate to take on Mr Putin, gave an interview from jail where he refused to rule out running for president.