From chess champ to socialite: Putin's colourful opponents

24th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Moscow's mass protest Saturday brought together a former finance minister, a glamorous socialite, an ex-chess champion and a detective author in the most important show of unity yet by prominent Russians against Vladimir Putin's rule.

Here is a look at some of the biggest names who took to the stage at the event on Sakharov Avenue, named after a nuclear scientist who played a seminal role in exposing Seviet-era rights abuses:


-- Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, 51.

The world's longest-serving finance minister was ousted in September after breaking cabinet ranks and questioning President Dmitry Medvedev's plans to swap jobs with premier Putin after presidential elections in March.

The softly-spoken and bookish minister has since emerged as an unlikely potential opposition leader who is also portraying himself as a possible mediator between protestors and the Kremlin.

A fiscal hawk who backs business interests, Kudrin warned the Kremlin it faced a "revolution" should it fail to bow to demands for new elections and broader freedoms.


-- Garry Kasparov, 48, world's top-ranked player for two decades.

Viewed as a dissident since Soviet times when he battled the Kremlin's favourite Anatoly Karpov for the chess crown, Kasparov has iconic status in the West but is barely heard from or mentioned in the state Russian media.

Kasparov has recently served as a contributing editor to The Wall Street Journal, accusing Putin of running a dictatorial regime bent on enriching his former security service colleagues.


-- Socialite Xenia Sobchak, 30.

Daughter of Putin's original mentor Anatoly Sobchak, the late mayor of Saint Petersburg who led the early Russian charge against Soviet rule, Xenia Sobchak is an acerbic TV personality who strikes a chord with Russia's hipper youth.

Sometimes compared to Hollywood celebrity Paris Hilton, Sobchak has a sharp tongue and vocal opinions that have recently taken her into the opposition corner.


-- Detective writer Boris Akunin, 55.

Born as Grigory Chkhartishvili, Akunin is sold around the world as the author of atmospheric Tsarist-era detective stories. In Russia, he is a household name whose books are widely seen being read on the metro in the rush-hour crush.

The intellectual conscience of the opposition movement, Akunin called on the crowd to make sure that "Putin goes into retirement instead of back into the Kremlin."


- Wistleblower Alexei Navalny, 35.

A lawyer by profession, Navalny became a cult figure through his corruption-fighting blog, where he coined the now emblematic phrase "the party of swindlers and thieves" to describe the ruling United Russia party.

Although his nationalist-inclined views upset many, Navalny has waged a tireless and dangerous campaign against graft in some of the biggest state companies, trying to unearth documents proving how they misspent billions.


-- Last Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, 80.

Too frail to brave the sub-zero temperatures to attend the rally, Gorbachev sent his greetings and used a newspaper interview Friday to urge people to focus on making sure that Putin did not return as president next year.

"This is shameful. And embarrassing. I, for example, am ashamed," Gorbachev said in reference to a television appearance in which Putin compared the white ribbons worn by Russian protesters to condoms.

© 2011 AFP

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