Billionaire Russian metals tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov promised on Thursday to exact revenge on a top Kremlin official after the businessman was ousted as leader of his own political party.
Prokhorov, 46, Russia‘s third richest man with an estimated fortune of £11.4bn, accused President Dmitry Medvedev‘s deputy chief of staff, Vladislav Surkov, of “privatising the political system” and orchestrating his downfall.
In the closest that Moscow has seen to real political drama for several months, it appeared that members of Russia’s governing elite had organised the tycoon’s exit in order to punish him for refusing to toe the line after he agreed to head the minority Right Cause party in May.
“I will do everything I can so that Surkov the puppeteer leaves his post,” Prokhorov said. Surkov is seen as the Kremlin’s chief ideologue and the architect of Russia’s “managed democracy”, who curates loyal political parties and youth groups.
Right Cause projected a liberal, pro-business agenda under Prokhorov’s leadership and has been widely seen as a Kremlin-controlled project to create the illusion of political competition in the run up to parliamentary elections in December. These are likely to be dominated by United Russia, the centrist party led by the prime minister, Vladimir Putin.
Prokhorov called a hasty press conference on Wednesday to warn of a mutiny against him within the party, allegedly provoked by Kremlin officials.
Retribution appeared to be swift – he was voted out as leader of the party at its conference in Moscow on Thursday – while he announced his own resignation at a rival meeting.
Prokhorov said that he would seek meetings with Medvedev and Putin, in order to tell them “what happened to the party, how, and show them the necessary documents”. The tycoon had sacked senior members of Right Cause, alleging that “clones” of official delegates had turned up at the party’s conference with forged documents.
He said that he will create a new political movement but it will not take part in the parliamentary poll. He would also “take a time-out” to consider whether to run as a candidate in presidential elections next March, Prokhorov added.
The businessman, who is president of Onexim Group and owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team, had insisted when he took over Right Cause that he wanted to head an “alternative party of power” rather than an opposition group.
Commentators differed in their interpretations of the confrontation. Many suggested it was a ruse designed by Russia’s leadership to create an impression of competition and promote Prokhorov as an independent politician, who may yet be useful as a suitably weak “liberal” candidate in the presidential poll.
Others said there had been a real clash because Prokhorov refused to accept electoral candidates for Right Cause proposed by Surkov, and would not agree to remove Yevgeny Roizman, a politician from the Urals once convicted for theft and fraud.
“The conflict between Surkov and Prokhorov over who would be the alpha male has ended in a schism of Right Cause,” political analyst Alexei Mukhin told the Guardian. “In the beginning, the two of them agreed that Prokhorov would have a lot of room for manoeuvre, but in reality it didn’t turn out that way.