The media is abuzz with news of Mikhail Prokhorov's stated intention to challenge Putin for the presidency. Regime stooge or genuine challenge? A little chronology for the sake of completeness:
- June 25th Prokhorov is appointed as leader of 'Right Cause' - a Kremlin sponsored lightening rod for the liberal vote.
- September 16th Prokhorov is removed from Right Cause whilst Prokhorov simultaneously urges supporters to desert the party. He attacks Surkov - chief 'political technologist' of the Kremlin - for wanting to be the puppeteer but surely Russia's 3rd richest man didn't really believe he would be allowed to proceed according to an independent course? Or did he think that once in place he could cut the puppet strings?
- December 12th Prokhorov announces he will run for office having stated a few days earlier that Putin is the only man capable of running the 'inefficient state machine'.
Given Prokhorov's public spat with ideologue-in-chief Vladislav Surkov he could claim some credibility in opposing the regime. The problem is that the man has form, having been willing to act in concert with the Kremlin in the first place. Moreover it seems a tall order for a man worth $18bn to risk everything. The most likely explanation must be that he has reached some sort of accommodation with a regime desperately looking for a safety valve. By agreeing to play that role whilst at the same time espousing an alternative platform perhaps Prokhorov is trying to maneuver himself into an enviable position whichever way this political crisis manifests? Having said that, it is difficult to see an oligarch who was instrumental in loans-for-shares being celebrated by the 'Bolotnaya Ploshod Caucus'!
Boris Gryzlov, Speaker of the Duma for the last 8 years, resigns having been a loyal servant to Putin and instrumental in the creation and maintenance of a supine parliament. Potentially a very significant event though as ever the back story is far from clear.
Alisher Usmanov, owner of Kommersant (an independent and authoritative daily in Russia), fires the editor in chief of the weekly magazine Kommersant Vlast (along with the director general for the holding company) for printing allegations of election rigging and a picture of Putin with unflattering slogans. Journalists are fired all the time for 'infractions' by owners, either after getting a call from the Kremlin or in anticipation of one. What is surprising here is how far the journalist felt emboldened to go. The heat is rising!