Vladimir Putin’s deputies responding to protests turn focus on to ringleaders

Vladimir Putin brushed off complaints of election fixing during his annual televised live chat with the nation on Thursday , but behind the scenes his lieutenants are anxiously plotting how to quell rising discontent.

Putin claimed during the phone-athon that he was “cheered” by the sight of tens of thousands of Russians flooding on to the streets of Moscow and other major cities on 10 December to express their disgust at rigged elections the previous weekend. “That gratifies me and if it’s the result of ‘Putin’s regime’, then that’s good – I’m glad that such people have appeared,” said the prime minister.

Yet in Kremlin and government corridors, say analysts, there is growing disquiet over the wave of dissent washing over the country. A new protest in Moscow has been approved for December 24. Its organisers hope to carry momentum through to the presidential election in March, for which Putin is the chief contender.

While the 59-year-old ex-KGB officer still wields immense power, his falling ratings could make it tricky for him to get 50% of the vote and retake the Kremlin in the first round of the poll.

There is scant chance, however, that the ruling cabal will respond to protesters’ anger over reported ballot-stuffing in favour of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party at the parliamentary vote on December 4.

“What you have to grasp is that the Kremlin, and Putin in particular, deeply despise public opinion,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based political analyst, in a telephone interview. “They think that politics is done by strong people and strong elite groups; that the protesters are just sheep. And the most important thing is to isolate their leaders, the people who bring them on to the streets.

“In Putin’s view, these leaders need to be frightened, or bought off, or destroyed, or discredited, or threatened with legal measures.”

Several protest leaders, including the blogger Alexei Navalny and the young activist Ilya Yashin, are already serving 15-day sentences in jail. More “denial of service” attacks on liberal websites and a continued blacklisting of undesirables from state television are expected in order to deny exposure to the dissenters.

“Putin will act as he knows how, with changes in the mechanism of power to get tougher managers into his ruling team who will effect these measures, to remove the opponents from public attention,” said Oreshkin. The first signs of such a tightening of control came on Thursday as Vladislav Surkov, the shadowy Kremlin fixer, was promoted to acting presidential chief of staff.

Some commentators suggest Putin’s circle could yet turn to violence in order to quell the protests. Andrew Wilson, an expert on Russian spin-doctoring at University College London, expects a subtler approach. “They know that a hardline response now would be a mistake and cause a backlash,” he said. Instead, the Kremlin will concentrate on creating a “plausible but not too disloyal opposition” in a Machiavellian mock-up of true political rivalry.

The principal actor of this shadowplay is expected to be Mikhail Prokhorov [below], the billionaire tycoon who announced his candidacy for the presidential election on 12 December.

Prokhorov clashed with his handlers in September when he resigned from the leadership of the Kremlin-finessed Right Cause party, claiming Surkov was a cynical “puppet master”.

Yet many are deeply sceptical of the tycoon’s claim to be an independent force. At the official launch of his campaign at a Moscow university this morning he greeted several hundred supporters and promised that if he became president he would pardon the jailed oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

He expressed sympathy for the street protesters – whom he did not join – but gave little sign of a man entering a political maelstrom in search of victory. Asked by the Guardian to characterise Putin, his main rival in the upcoming presidential race, Prokhorov said only: “Putin is a strong opponent and I am not afraid of him.”

Wilson said he doubted the billionaire’s credentials. “Why would a rich guy like Prokhorov risk his business interests?” he said. “There’s nothing in his past biography that indicates he would tilt at windmills.”

He added: “The interesting question now is whether the mood in Moscow and St Petersburg has changed so much that it has leapfrogged over these semi-plausible opposition figures. The public seems to be looking for something more. Managed democracy is becoming less and less manageable.”

Oreshkin predicted the presidential election campaign would be “scandalous”. “I doubt they will put people in prison again, but they may do so if they sense things getting out of control,” he said. “Contempt toward the authorities is growing. The situation is volatile.”

Putin Challenger Vows To Pardon Khodorkovsky

The Russian billionaire who this week announced his challenge to Vladimir Putin for Russia’s upcoming presidential election says his first move, if elected, would be to pardon jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Mikhail Prokhorov, a metals magnate estimated to be worth some $18 billion, announced this week that he would seek the presidency in March.

Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, has been in jail since 2003 on tax-evasion and fraud charges that critics say are punishment for defying then-President Putin’s power.

Some analysts view Prokhorov’s presidential bid as a genuine attempt to harness public discontent following the December parliamentary elections, while others speculate that it might be an attempt to dilute any possible challenges to Putin.

Many foreign observers and rights activists at home and abroad regard Khodorkovsky as a victim of politically motivated prosecution. But it’s not clear that a call for his release will play well among Russians who regard the rise of Russia’s post-Soviet oligarchs with suspicion.

The December 4 elections, won by Putin’s United Russia party, sparked unprecedented mass protests over alleged fraud.

Putin, long Russia’s most popular politician with significant influence over state-controlled media, is seen as almost certain to win a third mandate in the March presidential vote.

compiled from agency reports

‘Prokhorov seeks to articulate the democratic mood’

Mikhail Prokhorov’s decision to run in next year’s presidential election may signal a new era of political pluralism in Russia. And while the billionaire’s shot at victory is uncertain, experts say the Russian electorate will win out come March

­When billionaire entrepreneur and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was elected to head the Right Cause Party this June, his political aspirations were modest.  When asked about any presidential ambitions in an exclusive Interview with RT, Prokhorov replied, “I am not the kind of person who tends to dream or plunge into illusions.”

It’s amazing what six months can do.  When Russia’s third richest man resigned from Right Cause in September, he decried it for being a “puppet party” whose strings were being pulled behind the Kremlin walls. 

But as this past weekend has shown, Russia has come a long way over the last 20 years. While Prokhorov was ready to throw in the towel just three months ago, his political pessimism soon gave way to hope.

When tens of thousands filled the streets of Moscow on Saturday to rally against alleged violations in the State Duma elections, many protestors appeared frustrated that the leaderless movement had not coalesced into a viable political force. 

Speaking with RT, Martin McCauley, a Russia specialist at the University of London, believes Prokhorov might attempt to become the voice for middle-class urbanites looking to be heard.  

“He may in fact attract the new urban class in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg and places like that, some of the people who were demonstrating last week, the young professionals, the under 35s and so on. They want a voice,McCauley says, as well as the opportuntiy “to participate in policy-making – and they think their voices are not being listened to, and they think they are the future of Russia.”

However, Alexander Rahr, the director of the Russia-Eurasia Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, contends that as an independent candidate, Prokhorov has little chance of being a contender come March 4.  

“I doubt that Prokhorov will get enough followers,” Rahr said. “He needs a party, he needs a movement. He has the money to conduct a campaign, but he needs the people who will operate for him.”

Rarh continued: “He has the money to do all kinds of things in Russia, but money’s not enough to win or even to do well in presidential elections.  If he won’t get a party behind him, I think he has no chance even to be registered for the presidential election.”


However, McCauley remains optimistic that Prokhorov still has a shot of getting the upwardly-mobile to rally around him in the upcoming months. And regardless of how Prokhorov ultimately fairs as he takes on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the 2012 presidential elections, what really matters is that the Russian political climate is changing for the better. 

“The election in March will be much more interesting than it was four years ago, when it was a foregone conclusion who would win,” McCauley says.“So you will have various candidates with an opportunity to put forward their views and actually participate with the population, and the young urban elites will hope that there will be real participation; that they’ll be able to articulate their views. Prokhorov will enter into debate with them, and articulate his views, and he can present that as policy and say, ‘this is what these people want, and I’m a democratic candidate, and I’m articulating the democratic mood.’”

Russian billionaire challenges Putin for Kremlin

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov announced on Monday that he would challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the upcoming presidential elections next March.

In order to register, Prokhorov needs either to be nominated by any of the existing seven registered political parties or needs to collect 2 million signatures in support of his bid. The billionaire added that he has opted for the latter choice. Putin, the main contender for this top post, has been nominated by his ruling United Russia party.

Prokhorov said Monday that he had never discussed his presidential ambition with the country’s leaders. Last week, Prokhorov wrote in his LiveJournal blog that Putin is Russia’s only viable option for Russia’s next president.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday after Prokhorov’s statement that Putin was aware of the businessman’s ambitions.

Prokhorov planned to take part in December’s parliamentary elections as the leader of the Right Cause party but in mid-September he was dismissed as the party’s leader for allegedly not toeing the Kremlin line. He then accused the first Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov of being linked to the party’s split and said he would push for Surkov’s dismissal.

He said that he would unveil his political agenda after he registered as candidate.

Prokhorov also pledged to build a new political party “from scratch.”

The tycoon also did not rule out the possibility of cooperation with Russia’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, who earlier told the Vedomosti daily newspaper that he is in contact with Prokhorov about the possible establishment of a new political party.

Kudrin said in the interview published Monday that Russia needs a new liberal party and cast himself as its potential leader.

The massive protests following the December 4 State Duma elections demonstrate the popular demand for a liberal alternative, said Prokhorov. In this, he concurred with Surkov who also said that the protests highlight the lack of a party that would reflect interests of the urban educated middle class.

Meanwhile, Putin has remained quiet after the public protests in Moscow on Saturday, attended by tens of thousands of people. The protesters called for the dismissal and prosecution of election officials, unregistered political parties to be allowed to participate in the race, to cancel the results of the earlier vote and to order new elections.

President Dmitry Medvedev who dismissed these demands in his Facebook post late Sunday has been receiving angry remarks from bloggers through most of Monday. The post gathered a record 12,500 comments, many of which assailed Medvedev for dismissing the main demand, for fair elections, voiced by the protesters.

The United Russia party gathered a rally of its supporters in central Moscow on Monday, official figures say 25,000 people attended, critics say the figure was closer to 15,000 or less. Members of the country’s pro-Kremlin youth movements chanted pro-government slogans and brandished banners including “We PUT IN our Votes!”, “We have voted! We have won!”

In the meantime, a member of the United Russia and famous sociologist studying Russia’s elite, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, set up a group in the country’s most popular Vkontakte social network, calling to investigate vote fraud on Dec. 4.

The governor of the Vologda region, Vyacheslav Pozgalev, resigned from his post Monday, citing his own failure to win popular trust. United Russia collected 33.4 percent of the vote in the region, one of the lowest results in Russia for the ruling party. Medvedev and Putin said after the vote that governors of the regions where the ruling party had fared particularly poor might be fired from their posts.

Prokhorov sees no alternative to Putin, urges ruling party reform

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov said in his blog he saw no alternative to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as president but called for an overhaul of the premier’s United Russia party.

Putin, who is a candidate in presidential elections next March, has seen his popularity decline due to allegations of vote fraud in December 4 parliamentary elections that have prompted street protests.

“The majority of our people think the elections were unfair, and many did not vote because they think there is no one to vote for,” Prokhorov said in his LiveJournal blog. “But whether they like it or not, Putin is so far the only figure who can manage this inefficient state machine.”

Prokhorov, number 32 on Forbes 2011 list of the world’s richest people, was elected leader of the Right Cause party in June 2011. He quit two months later, charging that the Kremlin was bent on controlling the party.

In his blog entry, the tycoon warned against a revolution, saying that Russian revolutions have historically cost lives and led to a drop in living standards.

“Both society and the authorities have a long way to go toward each other. But I don’t see any other way and do not wish it for my country,” the 46-year-old billionaire said.

Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets basketball team, said United Russia needs reforms that should be carried out by the man who led the party in the latest elections, President Dmitry Medvedev.

“As leader of the [United Russia] ticket, Medvedev could run the Duma effectively and make it a scene for debate and the center of legislative initiative,” Prokhorov said.

In the runup to the presidential polls, Prokhorov suggested that the number of signatures candidates are required to collect should be reduced 90% and that they be allowed to represent not only parliamentary parties but also public organizations and blocs.

Prokhorov has said he is ready to serve as prime minister, while political observers speculate he may have presidential ambitions.

 

Kennedy Center to turn Russian

Some gifts require imagination, others – an explanation. Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin has given… a $5 million gift to Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to mark its 40th anniversary.

­The biggest shareholder in the world’s largest nickel producer Norilsk Nickel, and founder of Interros Company, Potanin’s foundation will support the Center’s programming and general operating expenses.

“I believe the Kennedy Center has been playing a very important role in building strong cultural relations between our countries by presenting the greatest Russian artists to the American people,” Potanin explained in a statement released before the gift announcement.

Additional funding will be earmarked to renovate an Opera House lounge at the center, which will be renamed The Russian Lounge and redesigned to reflect motifs of traditional Russian culture.

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein was quoted as saying “Russia’s cultural heritage has enriched the Kennedy Center’s programming on countless occasions, including multiple performances by the Mariinsky Ballet, Opera and Orchestra and the Bolshoi Ballet, as well as the 17-year tenure of Mstislav Rostropovich as music director of our National Symphony Orchestra.”

Due to open its doors next autumn, the Russian Lounge will be the fourth space at the living memorial to President John F. Kennedy dedicated to a single country, along with areas devoted to China, Africa and Israel.
valeria

Moscow court sanctions arrest of Luzhkov’s brother-in-law

A Moscow court sanctioned on Wednesday the arrest of Viktor Baturin, the brother-in-law of former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, on charges of attempted fraud.

Baturin, who is already serving a suspended sentence, was detained in the Russian capital on Monday.

Investigators claim he demanded payment of 10.8 million rubles ($344,000) from his billionaire sister’s company Inteko under a fake promissory note.

In early June this year, Baturin, the brother of property construction tycoon Yelena Baturina, received a suspended three-year jail term for fraud. He was found guilty of selling one property in downtown Moscow to two men for $857,000 and $1.5 million within the space of one month in 2008.

The Presnensky district court also fined Baturin $10,800 in damages.

 

Luzhkov’s brother-in-law charged with fraud

Russian businessman Viktor Baturin, the brother-in-law of former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, was charged with attempted fraud on Tuesday, a police spokesman said.

Baturin was detained in Moscow on Monday. Investigators said he demanded payment of 10.8 million rubles ($344,000) from his billionaire sister’s company Inteko under a fake promissory note.

“The suspect said he was aware that the note was forged and said he received the document from his sister. He also had two similar notes at home,” the Moscow Police Department’s press office said. “Baturin was charged with attempted fraud.”

The investigators said they would request to put Baturin into a pre-trial detention facility as he currently serves a suspended sentence.

In early June this year, Baturin, the brother of property construction tycoon Yelena Baturina, received a suspended three-year jail term for fraud. He was found guilty of selling one property in downtown Moscow to two men for $857,000 and $1.5 million within the space of one month in 2008.

The Presnensky district court also fined Baturin $10,800 in damages.

Portsmouth F.C.’s Russian owner may appear in London court

Russian billionaire Vladimir Antonov, the owner of England’s Portsmouth football club, may appear before a London court on Friday after being detained at the request of Lithuania on financial crime charges.

Antonov and his Lithuanian business partner Raimondas Baranauskas are both former shareholders in the nationalized Lithuanian bank Snoras, which was seized by authorities in Lithuania on November 16. Both men were put on Europol’s wanted list on Wednesday.

The are expected to be shortly extradited to Lithuania unless they declare that they are being persecuted for political views or their sexual orientation.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said earlier that the authorities began to suspect the two men after the bank was found to have $470 million missing in securities.

Snoras was part of Antonov’s Convers Group, which held 68.1% in the bank while Baranauskas owned 25.3%.

Russia has long been seeking the arrest of several top businessmen currently living in Britain. Russia’s arrest warrant list includes businessman and former Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, Yevgeny Chichvarkin, owner of a leading cell phone retailer, and Andrei Borodin, former owner of the Bank of Moscow.

 

Sexy images of La Dolce Vita

German billionaire Gunter Sachs made his name as a photographer, playboy and prolific art collector. A selection of photographs by the versatile personality has opened at the FotoLoft gallery at Moscow’s Winzavod.

­The man who was once married to Brigitte Bardot, then the world’s most desired woman, created photo-masterpieces of unbeaten quality at a time when digital printing had not yet been imagined.  

Sachs became a photo pioneer, exploring the possibilities of digital photography; he made the first nude cover for Vogue in the early 1970s, spearheading the trend of putting naked  divas on the covers of glossy magazines.

Claudia Schiffer was one of the key models discovered by Sachs, but not the only one. In 1972, he opened an art gallery in Hamburg where he put on show the first European exhibition by none other than Andy Warhol.

Sachs’ photographs became synonymous with glitz and glamor, sex and art, fashion and luxury. He managed to capture the vibes of the Swinging 60s with his images radiating energy and charisma.

It has been a real privilege for art lovers to own a photograph by the great grandson of the OPEL brand founder, who rarely sold his works, which he published only in 5 copies.

Since 1976, Sachs’ work has been shown in museums and galleries all over Europe – in Salzburg, Dusseldorf, Bremen, Wien, Aachen, Wiesbaden, Stockholm, Berlin, Gasteug Munich Cultural centre, Zurich, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and others.

The “Gunter Sachs – Photographer” retrospective boasts more than 200 exhibits. The movie “Dolce Vita,” directed by Sachs himself, will be screened at his Moscow exhibition. His fans will also be able to see some rare footage about the lives of Sachs and Bardot.

The exhibition by the artist, who committed suicide earlier this year aged 78, will run until November 27.

Russian billionaire Ivanishvili stripped of Georgian citizenship

The Georgian authorities have deprived Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Georgian-born billionaire living in Russia, of his citizenship, citing the nation’s ban on dual citizenships.

The move came after Ivanishvili, who is ranked 25th by Forbes in its list of Russian businessmen with an estimated fortune of $5.5 billion, said last week he was ready to sell his businesses in Russia and give away his Russian and French passports in order to challenge incumbent Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s party in next year’s parliamentary elections.

The Georgian Justice Ministry issued a statement saying Ivanishvili was granted French citizenship after receiving his Georgian passport in July 2004.

“Proceeding from this, given the provisions of the Georgian constitution and the organic law on Georgian citizenship, Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian citizenship has been suspended,” the statement reads.

In line with the Georgian constitution, a Georgian citizen cannot simultaneously be a citizen of another state.

The document does not specify when Ivanishvili was granted his French passport.

On October 7, Ivanishvili announced plans to set up a political party uniting “healthy” political forces in Georgia with the goal of achieving an absolute majority in 2012 elections.

The 56-year-old businessman said in a statement his decision was “due to the total monopoly held by Mikheil Saakashvili and the recently-made constitutional amendments which demonstrated Saakashvili’s desire to stay in power regardless of all constitutional terms.”

The businessman said he was ready to assume the post of Georgian prime minister or parliamentary speaker.

New York’s Mayor Bloomberg can shoot down airplanes

The New York Police Department has given the city’s best-known billionaire one big, big gun.

Michael Bloomberg has presided over the city of New York for nearly a decade and with a big job like that comes big responsibility. Yes, there is the crime and the homeless and the grime and grit and of course the terrorists — but Bloomberg is prepared for it all. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said this week that Mayor Bloomberg has the authority to command the NYPD to strike down aircraft with a Barrett .50 caliber rifle

RT reported last month that Kelly told the news program 60 Minutes that the city has severe antiterrorist capabilities that most of Manhattan wasn’t aware of, and when asked for specifics, revealed that they had the means to take down a plane. Soon insider sources leaked that the massive rifle under the watch of the NYPD is kept in a locked safe and, if deployed, can be mounted onto police helicopters.

First, however, Bloomberg has to give them the thumbs up.

Speaking at a City Council meeting, Kelly said this week that upon the development of any terror alert, Mayor Bloomberg would be “notified immediately” and would make “the final decision” in case of emergency. Earlier Kelly had told 60 Minutes that the circumstances that would call for cops to bring down an airplane would be “a very extreme situation.”

What’s extreme in the eyes of the NYPD might not necessarily match up to others’ definition, however. In recent months it has been revealed that the Police Department of New York City has deployed undercover agents under the direction of a CIA operative to foreign nations in order to collect intelligence. Bloomberg has also approved an extensive surveillance system across the streets of New York that keeps an eye on seemingly everyone, all the time.

Big brother is watching, for sure. And he is armed.

Right Cause party pledges to return $21 mln in donations

Russia’s Right Cause party will return almost 650 million rubles ($21 million) of donations made to support its former leader Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire’s spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Right Cause spokesman Yaroslav Volpin concurred, saying: “We will pay off everything, whatever the sum is. We don’t need money invested in the oligarch rather than the party’s development.”

Prokhorov, who had announced his ambitious political plans in late June, had to quit as Right Cause party head in mid-September after an internal party dispute.

Prokhorov supporters, who granted about $21 million to the party’s development, will be given back their money, Prokhorov’s spokesperson said, adding that the businessman himself said he contributed “a very modest sum” and has not yet asked for his money back.

The party raised donations totaling an estimated 800 million rubles ($26 million) from companies and individuals.

Some Russian media have claimed the party was deliberately neutered by pro-Kremlin figures concerned about Prokhorov’s emergence as a political force.

 

Prokhorov Weighs Options Following Controversy

Prokhorov Weighs Options Following Controversy

Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)

IGOR TABAKOV / SPT

Prokhorov, right, with pop diva Alla Pugachyova, at a meeting of his supporters where he stepped down last week.

MOSCOW — After his dramatic resignation from the Right Cause party last week, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has backtracked by saying he is not challenging the country’s leadership but just one of two competing Kremlin camps.

“There was no personal conflict with anyone. … In the end it was a conflict of ideologies,” Prokhorov wrote in a blog post published late last Friday. “At this stage the conservatives won. I wanted change, but the system was not ready.”

Last Thursday, the metals magnate-turned-politician had accused first deputy Kremlin chief of staff Vladislav Surkov of being a “puppet master” in national politics and vowed to personally fight for his removal.

The unprecedented attack on Surkov, widely seen as the architect of the system of “managed democracy” built during Vladimir Putin’s eight-year tenure as president, immediately raised concern that Prokhorov would become the target of the Kremlin’s wrath.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said Friday that Prokhorov might put his life in danger if he wages a political battle. “If he becomes a real opposition figure, he risks repeating Khodorkovsky’s fate,” Nemtsov told Interfax.

Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 after showing political ambitions. His business empire was broken up, and he remains in prison.

Prokhorov has said he has no fear, but state media coverage since his resignation signaled strongly that he has fallen out of favor.

His comments about Surkov, made at what was supposed to be a party convention, were widely ignored even by some privately held news outlets like the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily, and the main television channels switched that day to covering the convention of his Kremlin-friendly opponents.

Over the weekend, two state-controlled channels, NTV and Rossia 1, aired damning reports about controversial anti-drug campaigner Yevgeny Roizman, whose inclusion on the Right Cause party list had sparked last Wednesday’s rebellion against Prokhorov.

On Friday, Prokhorov said he was ready to stand the heat. “I know already that they are trying to create problems for me and for my followers. … They will crack down hard and uncompromisingly. I am prepared,” he wrote in his blog.

But he suggested that he might not carry on with politics, saying he does not know yet “how everything will go on.”

In an interview with the BBC Russian Service, published Saturday, he said he needed time to analyze the situation. “After I have weighed and thought through everything, I will make a decision,” he said.

Prokhorov said he had requested meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and was now waiting for a slot in their schedules.

Asked how he planned to achieve Surkov’s ouster, Prokhorov said he would fight for the victory of progressive against conservative ideology. “If [my] side wins, staff changes will be unavoidable,” he said.

He also claimed that he had allies in the Kremlin. “Various people work in the presidential administration. There are those … who have called me to express their support,” he said, adding that he would not reveal their names to protect them from reprisals.

Not everybody was convinced by his argument.

“Is it so hard to understand that the political decision of [Prokhorov’s] expulsion was made by Putin and Medvedev, not by Surkov or Khabirov?” Nemtsov wrote in his blog Saturday.

When the party rebellion unfolded last week, Prokhorov accused Rady Khabirov, deputy head of the Kremlin’s domestic affairs department, of orchestrating it.

Nemtsov said Prokhorov’s example proved that no independent party could exist as long as Putin’s political system demanded total servility. “You must admit that the leader of your party is Surkov and that you are his errand boy.”

Prokhorov himself conceded that he had been naive when he earlier this year agreed to lead the party, which has been seen as a Kremlin project since its inception in 2008.

In an interview with The New York Times published Saturday, he said he had agreed to do so after a meeting with Medvedev this spring. “It never came into my head that some staffers would impose some limits,” he said.

Leonid Gozman, a co-founder of Right Cause and a prominent liberal, accused Prokhorov of failure. “Did he not know what country we live in? Did he not know who Surkov is?” Gozman told reporters Thursday.

Gozman, who held no party position after Prokhorov took over in June, argued that the billionaire should have found a common language with the Kremlin to ensure that a “relatively independent” party got into the Duma.

Alexei Mukhin, an analyst with the Center for Political Information, suggested that the whole affair had been orchestrated from the start and speculated that Right Cause and Prokhorov could come together again.

Court orders transparency over knife attack on Khodorkovsky

A regional court has ordered prison authorities in Siberia to provide documents detailing an investigation into the beating of a prison inmate who attacked former billionaire Yukos boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky with a knife.

Alexander Kuchma, Khodorkovsky’s former cellmate at a penal colony in the remote Chita region, stabbed the ex-tycoon in the face in April 2006 but later claimed he was acting on the prison authorities’ orders.

Kuchma claims he had his “arm broken because he could not carry out the order from the prison officials to inflict a lethal wound on Khodorkovsky with a pointed object,” a spokeswoman for the Zabaikalsky district court said.

The court ordered on Tuesday that Kuchma be given documents from the official probe into the incident, which state media portrayed as personally motivated, following allegations that Khodorkovsky sexually harassed Kuchma.

Khodorkovsky was then serving an eight-year sentence for fraud and tax evasion. He had his term extended by six years in a widely criticized trial in December last year. It was later cut by one year on appeal.

In an interview with the online Russian newspaper Gazeta.ru in May, Kuchma said he “was as if being held hostage” in jail.

“I had no rights there,” he said. “All that was written about that incident with Khodorkovsky, this was all lies.”

Russian Tycoon Lebedev Punches Talk Show Guest

WATCH: Russian tycoon Aleksander Lebedev becomes embroiled in a punch-up with a fellow guest on a TV talk show.

Russian billionaire Aleksander Lebedev hurled punches at a fellow Russian businessman during a pre-recorded television talk show.

Sergei Polonsky goaded Lebedev on the pre-recorded show, announcing that he would rather punch someone than discuss financial issues with oligarchs.

“Do you want to try it out?” Polonsky asked.

Lebedev answered by punching Polonsky in the face, throwing him off his metal stool and sliding alongside the stage.

Lebedev, 51, is a former KGB operative who owns two major newspapers in Britain.

He made billions trading stocks and bonds after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Polonsky himself is a one-time billionaire who lost part of his fortune during the economic crisis.

compiled from agency reports

Alexander Lebedev in Russian TV punch-up

The Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev may pride himself on not interfering with the editorial policy of his UK newspapers, the Independent and Evening Standard, but there was no sign of such restraint when he took exception to the words of a fellow guest on Russian television.

Clad in very tight grey jeans, Lebedev showed a glimpse of his past as a KGB agent as he launched two blows at the former property developer Sergei Polonsky during a television debate on the financial crisis. Polonsky, once ranked Russia‘s 40th richest man, had said he wanted to “stick one in the mouth” of Lebedev. In the clip posted on the NTV channel’s website, Polonsky was sent tumbling to the floor and Lebedev then stood over him in a crouched fighting stance.

The newspaper baron said later that he had been reacting to Polonsky’s threatening manner. The colourful proprietor was quoted as saying: “In a critical situation, there is no choice. I see no reason to be hit with the first shot. I neutralised him.”

Polonsky later posted photographs online showing a cut on his arm and a tear in his trousers.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov ousted from pro-Kremlin party

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.

Alfa exerting pressure on Rosneft management

Alfa Group, controlled by billionaire Mikhail Fridman, is putting pressure on the management of Russian oil giant Rosneft and the oil company is ready to prove it in court, Rosneft said on Thursday.

It said that its board of directors had received letters from Cyprus-based NBI Trading accusing them of attempts of diluting its stake in an oil equipment producer.

“An organized public attack on Rosneft connected with ongoing legal proceedings seems to aimed at putting the company and its directors under an informal pressure to solve issues in their interests, not by legal means and by damaging the company’s reputation,” Rosneft said in a statement.

“Given threats to interests of the company and its shareholders and attempts to exert pressure on Rosneft’s management, the board of directors possesses evidence … which could be presented in court if necessary to protect the rights and legitimate interests of Rosneft and its shareholders.”

Alfa Group is a shareholder in BP’s Russian venture TNK-BP and is now at odds with the international giant over its intended cooperation with Rosneft.

Earlier this year, BP struck a $16-billion deal with Rosneft which involved cooperation in developing the Russian Arctic and a share swap. But AAR, the consortium which includes Alfa and controls half of TNK-BP, said BP had violated TNK-BP’s shareholder agreement by not offering the Rosneft cooperation possibility to TNK-BP first. The deal fell through and Rosneft signed an Arctic development contract with ExxonMobil instead.