MOSCOW — Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has ended his brief spell in party politics and vilified the Kremlin for sabotaging his party just three months before key State Duma elections
In a day of chaotic events, Prokhorov parted ways with the Right Cause party that he had led since June, and renounced his intention to run in the December elections.
In a sign of the chaos, Prokhorov said he was resigning, but opponents within his party said he had been ousted and they organized their own rival party convention.
Speaking at a gathering of his supporters, Prokhorov accused the Kremlin of fomenting the mutiny within the ranks of the Kremlin-approved opposition party, which was expected to become Russia’s second-largest party by the end of the year.
And in an unprecedented verbal attack, he accused the Kremlin first deputy chief of staff and top ideologue, Vladislav Surkov, of creating an insufferable and authoritarian political climate.
“There is a puppeteer who long ago privatized the political system, who has been misinforming the country’s leadership for a long time, who is putting pressure on the mass media and trying to manipulate the citizens,” Prokhorov said. “His name is Vladislav Yuryevich Surkov.”
Right Cause Gone Wrong
Prokhorov burst onto the political scene as leader of Right Cause only three months ago, marking a break with the common understanding established under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that oligarchs who strayed into politics would suffer the fate of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Founded in 2008, Right Cause had remained in the shadows and without seats in the State Duma.
It was widely understood that Prokhorov’s resources would steer the center-right party to relative success in December, while diverting the votes of Russia’s pro-reform electorate from the opposition to a Kremlin-approved party.
Speaking to Russian television in Moscow on September 15, Georgy Bovt, a leading party member, said that the conflict with Prokhorov was caused by the billionaire’s own mistakes.
Bovt cited Prokhorov’s decision to hire the same PR team that ran an unsuccessful campaign for a Ukrainian presidential candidate, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as well as Prokhorov’s removal of the old guard of Right Cause regional leaders.
“I never signed up for a public relations team hired in Ukraine running the party on Prokhorov’s behalf or to Prokhorov changing regional party leaders on a whim,” Bovt said. “This is basically the essence of this conflict.”
Clashing With ‘Sovereign Democracy’
It’s unclear how Right Cause will fare without the financial resources of Prokhorov. He was ranked Russia’s third-wealthiest person by “Forbes” magazine, with a fortune worth around $18 billion.
But the vitriol from Prokhorov marks the most stinging comments directed at a top-ranking official by a Kremlin-approved politician in years.
Surkov, who has served in the Kremlin administration for over a decade, is widely understood to be the ideologist of the current Russian regime and author of the term “sovereign democracy.”
“Kommersant” quoted Prokhorov as saying: “I will do everything to get Surkov fired. Only then can we get on with high politics.”
But Vladimir Pribylovsky, the president of the Panorama Information and Research Center think tank, dismissed this aim as unrealistic, saying that “as long as Surkov has Putin’s trust, no one can get rid of him — not even Medvedev.”
It’s unclear whether Prokhorov will now found another political party, or to what extent the comments are out of line in Russia’s carefully stage-managed politics.
But Pribylovsky told RFE/RL’s Russian Service that Prokhorov’s political career may not be over. “If he wants to go further in politics, then he can turn this bad episode to his strategic advantage,” he said. “He didn’t cave in — he kicked out instead.”
Prokhorov’s supporters believe he has left Right Cause with his dignity intact. “Knowing Prokhorov, I knew from the very beginning that he was not going to be pulled by the strings. And that is precisely what happened,” one such supporter, rock musician Andrei Makarevich, told RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
“I realize that it’s going to be hard for him now, but I support him,” Makarevich said. “He has acted with a lot of dignity and integrity, in my opinion.” Makarevich added, “As I understand the party is going to be shaken up now and [Prokhorov will establish] a new, mostly probably nongovernmental, organization.”