Suspicions cast on tycoon's Kremlin candidacy
Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov's decision to stand against Vladimir Putin in presidential elections could be part of a Kremlin plan rather than a genuine challenge to the authorities, the press said Tuesday.
Prokhorov announced on Monday he would be a candidate in the March presidential elections, adding new drama to the Russian political scene after mass opposition protests shook the authorities at the weekend.
But several newspapers cast suspicion on his announcement, noting that Prokhorov maintains good ties with the elite and saying the Kremlin could want his candidacy to harmlessly soak up any protest votes against Putin.
The Vedomosti daily quoted a Kremlin source as saying that Prokhorov's candidacy was not unexpected for Putin as the tycoon had kept contact with the Russian strongman and his inner circle.
The source described Prokhorov's move as a "tactical decision" aimed at reducing tensions in society after the protests of the last week accusing the authorities of rigging this month's parliamentary elections.
"The authorities are trying to weaken the protest mood in society, experts believe," the newspaper added.
Prokhorov's surprise announcement came at a news conference that was scheduled just hours before. Vedomosti noted that the tycoon had written on his blog only last week that there appeared no alternative to Putin leading Russia.
"Like it or not, Putin is the only person who in some way is managing this ineffective state machine," he wrote on his LiveJournal blog.
The political editor of the Kommersant FM radio station Stanislav Kucher said that "it's clear, to put it mildly, that Putin and Prokhorov are not enemies".
"They are comrades and are in constant contact. Putin of course is against any bloody revolution (in Russia) and so is Prokhorov," he added.
Liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov -- a key figure in the protests that have swept Russia in the last days -- said it was unthinkable that Prokhorov could have taken his step without prior agreement from Putin.
"This is a new attempt to form a joint political project between Putin and Prokhorov," he wrote on his blog. "Putin needs Prokhorov to get millions of deceived voters on his side."
"As for why Prokhorov needs all this, I have no idea."
Russian tycoons have generally stayed out of politics since the jailing of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky on fraud charges after he started openly financing opposition to Putin.
But Prokhorov's candidacy also made the front page of the pro-Kremlin mass circulation tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, an unusual honour for any challenger to Putin. "The billionaire goes into politics," it said.
Analysts believe Putin in any case faces a far rockier ride to his third term as president after the protests against the parliamentary election results gave Russia's sidelined opposition new confidence.
"Russia's presidential race, it seems, is to stop being boring," commented the liberal Nezavismaya Gazeta.
Online newspaper Gazeta.ru also noted that Prokhorov's announcement had come just weeks after he had publicly and acrimoniously fallen out with the Kremlin over a botched plan to lead a pro-business political party.
Prokhorov's short-lived leadership of the Just Cause party ended with him calling the Kremlin's chief ideologue Vladislav Surkov a "puppetmaster" and being ousted as its chief.
He described his move to run against Putin as "the most serious decision of my life".
© 2011 AFP