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Russian tycoon offers to head pro-Medvedev party

Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov Monday offered to lead a party backing President Dmitry Medvedev, the first major foray into politics by a top businessman since the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Prokhorov, Russia’s second-richest man with an estimated fortune of $22.7 billion, said in a letter leaked to the Russian media that he was ready to head the Right Cause, a pro-business party that has called for Medvedev to run for a second term.

“I confirm that such information is correct,” Russian news agencies quoted Prokhorov as saying Monday. “I have forwarded my proposal to the leaders of the Right Cause.”

Mass-circulation newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda earlier Monday published excerpts of his letter to his key colleagues saying he had been encouraged to enter politics by his friends and family.

“If each of us having an opportunity and a desire to live in Russia does not try to change something then nothing will ever change,” he said in the letter.

Andrei Belyak, spokesman for Prokhorov’s Onexim group, confirmed the existence of the letter but declined further details.

If Prokhorov is elected the leader of the party, the initiative would mark the first time a top Russian tycoon enters big politics since the imprisonment of Khodorkovsky, the former head of the now disbanded Yukos oil giant, in 2003.

His supporters have always insisted this was punishment for daring to support opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The move comes as Russia heads into parliamentary elections in December followed by presidential vote three months later amid growing intrigue over who out of Putin or Medvedev will stand for the Kremlin in 2012.

The Right Cause (Pravoe Delo in Russian) was set up in 2008 with a modernising, pro-business agenda. It is too young to have fielded candidates in parliamentary elections and remains a marginal force.

More radical liberals keep their distance from the party, seeing it as too close to the Kremlin, and its ruling council includes figures like Igor Yurgens, an influential think-tank chief who has urged Medvedev to stand again.

Until now, it has been jointly led by three figures — Leonid Gozman, Georgy Bovt and Boris Titov — who have next to no national profile in contrast to the prominent Prokhorov.

Putin is the overall leader of United Russia which has the overwhelming majority in the Russian parliament but Medvedev has repeatedly expressed suspicion about the party’s domination of Russian politics.