Page 2 acquires list of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s Russian presidency campaign promises

Sasha Mordovets / Getty ImagesMikhail Prokhorov has some big ideas on tap for his campaign for the Russian presidency.

Russian billionaire and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov recently announced he’ll be running for president of Russia against Vladimir Putin next year. Our inside sources at the Kremlin have helped us gather a preliminary list of campaign promises Prokhorov is expected to make.

1. If elected President of Russia, I vow to move the entire nation at least fifteen miles North, where beautiful, fresh sod will be planted and life will be better for all.

2. I promise to work tirelessly to deliver a center who will average at least eight rebounds a game and relieve the low-post burden from the little people.

3. I will pass a constitutional amendment that says that once I mortgage the future to obtain a superstar, that superstar will be unable to escape to more desirable lands until well past his prime.

4. Once elected, I can assure you that our nation will have a T-shirt gun army to protect our citizens from boredom.

5. Read my lips: “No new luxury taxes!”

6. I fully support anyone joining the Occupy Red Square movement — but only for 24 seconds.

7. Our new energy program will consist of tiny generators inside of each basketball that delivers 1 kilowatt of power for every 30 dribbles.

8. Crimes will now be referred to as “fouls.” Violent crimes are “technical fouls.”

9. Immigration to Russia will be limited to anyone over 6-foot-5 with a killer cross-over.

10. I will have the number 8 retired. And when I say “retired” I mean you will no longer be permitted to even write that number in your checkbook.

Now please welcome my Czar of Gangly, Andrei Kirilenko!

Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third richest man, to challenge Putin

Russia‘s third richest man has said that he would seek to challenge Vladimir Putin for the presidency, prompting speculation that the surprise move could be part of a Kremlin attempt to channel growing middle class opposition to Putin’s regime.

“I have made a decision, probably the most serious decision of my life,” the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov told journalists during a hastily called press conference on Monday. “I am going to run in the presidential election.” Prokhorov said he would seek to appeal to the disenchanted middle class with his candidacy and made sure to avoid direct criticism of Putin, who has drawn the ire of a growing protest movement hoping to challenge his authoritarian rule.

But the announcement appeared to some analysts to be a Kremlin attempt to redirect protesters’ ire from the streets, organised by the unauthorised opposition, into a liberal project controlled by the corridors of power. Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told Gazeta.ru that Prokhorov – who has a history of involvement in Kremlin-inspired politics – was “a pure fake and bluff”. Prokhorov presented his statement as a challenge to the Putin era. “Society is waking up, whether you want it or not,” he said. “If the powers, in the widest sense of the word, don’t carry out a dialogue [with the protesters], then those powers will soon have to go.”

However, his presidential bid presents a total about-face regarding Putin’s handling of the government. Just last week, as the first signs of the protest movement began to emerge, he took to his blog to say: “Whether you like it or not, Putin is so far the only one who can somehow manage this ineffective government machine.”

Prokhorov has survived a series of scandals to build a fortune of an estimated £11.5bn. He was forced to sell his stake in the metals giant Norilsk Nickel on the eve of the financial crisis in 2008, after becoming embroiled in a prostitution scandal in France. He now owns part of a major gold producer and the New Jersey Nets basketball team in the US.

The 6ft 8in billionaire has tried his hand at politics before. He spent a brief four months as head of the pro-business Right Cause party, until he was kicked out in September – something he blamed on the Kremlin’s chief strategist and ideologist Vladislav Surkov. The project was a failed attempt to garner liberal support ahead of the parliamentary elections earlier this month, and was apparently derailed by the Kremlin once it got too popular.

When asked what was missing from Russia’s political scene in a rare interview last week, Surkov answered: “A mass liberal party.” Prokhorov’s announcement led the evening news reports, tightly controlled by Surkov, indicating it was given official sanction.

Prokhorov insisted he had not discussed his candidacy with Putin, Surkov or President Dmitry Medvedev. The oligarch must gather 2m signatures of support before the elections commission approves his candidacy.

Russia’s protest movement, which saw 50,000 people denouncing election fraud and Putin’s rule on Saturday, has forced the Kremlin to acknowledge the void in liberal representation in government. The government has repeatedly refused to register liberal parties and has allowed no serious opponents to Putin to emerge.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said that the government was not involved in Prokhorov’s decision. “It has nothing to do with us. We have nothing to do with him.” He added Putin had been informed of Prokhorov’s announcement and had “no reaction”.

Prokhorov revealed few details on Monday, declining to outline his political platform or commit to whether he would make an appearance at Moscow’s next big protest, planned for 24 December. “I’d like to keep some mystery,” he said.

Prokhorov said he was holding talks with Alexei Kudrin, who was removed as finance minister in September after criticising Medvedev one day after the president said he would step aside in favour of Putin.

In an interview published on Monday, Kudrin called for the creation of a new liberal party following the protests. “The process of the consolidation of liberal and democratic forces will now go forward. I am absolutely certain of this, and I myself am ready to support this,” the long-time Putin ally told the Vedomosti newspaper.

When Prokhorov was at its head, Right Cause did manage to gain some support among the urban, middle class elite despite the Kremlin’s involvement. Yet it was unclear whether the same would be true after discontent has spilled onto the streets.

Meanwhile, Russia’s opposition continued to plan its next step, applying for permission to hold a 50,000-strong rally on 24 December just outside the Kremlin’s walls. One of the movements leaders, anti-corruption fighter Alexei Navalny, indicated in an interview from prison, where he is serving a 15-day sentence for disobeying police orders during Russia’s first protest, that he did not rule out running for the presidency.

“I think answering that question in this place and in the context of everything that is happening is stupid,” he told the New Times, an opposition magazine. “This shouldn’t be discussed here.”

Mikhail Prokhorov stands for Russian president

The industrial tycoon and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team has announced he will run as an independent in the 2012 Russian presidential elections, though there is scepticism that the whole scenario is being stage-managed by the Kremlin to channel dissent away from Putin

Profile: Mikhail Prokhorov

Mikhail Prokhorov was born on May 3, 1965 in Moscow and is a Russian self-made billionaire. He made his name in the financial sector and went on to become one of Russia’s leading industrialists in the precious metals sector. In the summer of 2011 he led the Right Cause party. On December 12, 2011, Prokhorov said is planning to run for president in 2012.

Prokhorov graduated from the Russian Government Finance University in 1989, before joining the International Bank for Economic Cooperation, serving in a managerial position until 1992. He was briefly head of the board of International Finance Company (MFK) before managing the acquisition of Norilsk Nickel by Onexim Bank, of which he was then chairman. Prokhorov overhauled the company, selling off most of its non-mining assets and creating Polyus Gold from its gold assets.

In May 2007, Prokohorov launched a $17 billion private investment fund, Onexim Group, focused on the development of nanotechnology, including hydrogen fuel cells, as well as other high-technology projects and non-ferrous and precious metals mining. One of the fund’s key areas of development is the production of materials with ultra–tiny structures used in energy generation and medicine.

Prokhorov sold his 25% stake in Norilsk Nickel to aluminium producer Rusal in April 2008, in return for a large cash payment and 14% of Rusal stock. Just a few months later the Russian stock market crashed and Russian companies found their market value decreasing rapidly. Although Prokhorov’s wealth was dented by the exposure of his other assets, he weathered the crisis much better than most of his fellow businessmen.

In September 2008 Prokhorov’s Onexim Group purchased a fifty percent stake (minus one) in Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital.

Mikhail Prokhorov’s net worth was estimated at $18 billion by Forbes magazine in 2011. This makes him the third richest man in Russia and the 32nd richest man in the world.

In 2008 Prokhorov launched Snob, a Russian-language magazine and community in collaboration with Vladimir Yakovlev, founder of Kommersant. The project, which has since expanded into other international markets includes a Russian language magazine and online discussion space.

Prokhorov has supported a number of cultural and sporting institutions in Russia, including Moscow-based CSKA basketball, hockey and football clubs. In 2004 he founded the Cultural Initiatives Foundation, run by his sister Irina.

In May 2010 he became the first non-American to own a National Basketball Association (NBA) club, when he bought an 80% stake in the New Jersey Nets.

In May 2011, rumors circulated that Prokhorov was a likely candidate to head the Right Cause party. Pro-Kremlin in outlook, the party’s top job was previously turned down by Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov.

In June 2011, Prokhorov was made leader of the Right Cause party. He threw his weight and considerable financial resources behind the party’s campaigning ahead of December 2011 State Duma elections, but was ousted from his position in September 2011 after a coup within the party. In the wake of his departure from the party he indicated that he still has political ambitions, but will not run in 2011 State Duma elections.

On December 12, 2011, Prokhorov said he is planning to run for president in 2012.

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.

Billionaire Prokhorov Announces Kremlin Bid, As Kudrin Calls For Liberal Party

One of Russia’s richest men and the architect of an abortive bid this year to launch a center-right political party, billionaire playboy Mikhail Prokhorov, now says he will challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in next year’s presidential election.

Prokhorov called the move “the most important decision in my life.”

“I’m going to run for president,” he announced to journalists.

Prokhorov, who controls the Polys Gold metals mining company, was ranked as one of Russia’s top five billionaires by “Forbes” magazine and was estimated to have a fortune of $18 billion in 2010.

Prokhorov is the former leader of the business-oriented Right Cause party, which finished with less than 1 percent of the vote in last week’s parliamentary elections. Prokhorov resigned from the party in September.

“As you remember, the Kremlin removed me and my comrades from Right Cause and we could not accomplish what we wanted. It is not my habit to stop halfway,” Prokhorov told reporters in announcing his presidential bid.

Kudrin Calls For Liberal Party

Putin has long been Russia’s most popular politician, but was forced under the constitution to stand down in 2008 after two consecutive terms as president. He recently announced his plan to run in the March presidential election.

Meanwhile, former Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a longtime Putin ally, has called for the creation of a liberal party to fill a void in Russian politics after the recent parliamentary voting.

“This election has shown a deficit of political forces or structures that would defend liberal, democratic values. And this deficit has proven to be more acute than we could have imagined 12 or six months ago,” Kudrin said.

“So today, one can say with certainty that this deficit is so significant and the demand for the creation of such a structure is so high that it will be created.”

Tens of thousands of Russians protested on December 10 over the outcome of the December 4 parliamentary elections that the opposition says were rigged in favor of the ruling United Russia party.

More protests are planned, and the Kremlin has made some concessions — at least symbolic ones — in the face of mounting questions about the voting.

Observers say Kudrin’s proposal could offer a way for Putin to channel discontent.

Kudrin also warned that the legitimacy of a presidential election Putin is expected to win in March would be undermined by any failure to address protesters’ allegations of fraud in the parliamentary elections.

Kudrin’s comments came in an interview with “Vedomosti.”

compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports

Prokhorov … for president … of Russia?

Mikhail Prokhorov, one of Russia’s richest tycoons and the owner of the Nets basketball team, said Monday he will run against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March presidential election.

Prokhorov, whose wealth the Forbes magazine has estimated at $18 billion, has been cautious not to cross Putin’s path in the past. But the tycoon’s candidacy may now pose a serious challenge to Putin, whose authority has been dented by his party’s poor showing in Russia’s Dec. 4 parliamentary election and allegations of widespread fraud during the balloting.

Putin’s party only won about 50 percent of that vote, compared to 64 percent four years ago, and the fraud allegations have allowed opposition parties to successfully mount massive anti-Putin protests in Russia.

“The society is waking up,” Prokhorov said at the news conference he held in Moscow to announce his candidacy. “Those authorities who will fail to establish a dialogue with the society will have to go.”

To read the full news story, click here.

Russian ex-finance minister says may establish new political party

It is an ideal time for establishing a new Russian right-wing party as the country’s “political landscape” is changing, former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said in an interview with Vedomosti business daily published on Monday.

New Russian party to be established

In the first interview after his scandalous dismissal, Kudrin, who fell out with the Kremlin and was sacked as finance minister in late September, said he was ready to participate in the establishment of a new right-wing party as liberal views in Russia historically had not found wide support.

“The demand on the creation of such a [political] structure is so high that it will inevitably be established…I am ready to contribute to it,” Kudrin told Vedomosti.

The ex-minister, who had previously dismissed reports that he might become the Right Cause party’s leader, said that President Dmitry Medvedev had repeatedly asked him to head the party.

“I said no…as I realized that the Right Cause with its ‘unclear people’ and significant control from the Kremlin will be absolutely powerless,” Kudrin said.

Some Russian media reported earlier that the Right Cause party, once headed by billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, was allegedly neutered by pro-Kremlin figures concerned about Prokhorov’s emergence as a political force.

United Russia loses grip

Kudrin, who confessed he had not voted for the United Russia party at the parliamentary elections on December 4, said that the souring support for the ruling party is a “rational result.”

“The United Russia party is losing support…These elections showed the unusual situation when people want to preserve and discuss the fairness of the elections. In this regard, people are not satisfied with the results, there are too many flaws,” Kudrin said.

Kudrin confirmed that the ruling party had not met the people’s expectations because there were not any significant changes in its key oaths, including easing conditions for business, tackling corruption and restoring the judiciary system.

“United Russia is an experienced and pragmatic party…I think it will return to reality after populist statements,” Kudrin said, referring to Russia’s “changing political landscape.”

No talks to occupy premier post

Kudrin, who was sacked soon after the United Russia’s congress on September 24 where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev after presidential elections, was rumored to possibly occupy the premier’s post.

“Nobody has discussed the premier post with me. The genuine reason of my leaving is that the previous incorrect decisions that were made would not be reviewed. I have no plans to fight with the consequences of the decisions that I was against,” Kudrin told Vedomosti, referring the Kremlin’s decision to increase defense costs, a move that Kudrin had sharply criticized.

The former minister also said that he had never been a close ally to Putin, but continued to respect him regardless “disagreements on several issues.”

Vladimir Putin Announces Foreign Investment Has Reached $36 Bln

Vladimir Putin Announces Foreign Investment Has Reached $36 Bln

Published: November 30, 2011 (Issue # 1685)

MOSCOW — Foreign direct investment in Russia reached $36 billion in the first 10 months of the year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Monday during a meeting of the government’s commission on foreign investment, citing the Central Bank.

Last year the amount of foreign investment for the same period was $32.2 billion, Putin said.

During its final meeting of the year, the commission approved eight foreign investment requests, Federal Anti-Monopoly Service deputy director Andrei Tsyganov said.

French IT company Atos gained approval to provide services for the 2014 Olympics and the 2018 football World Cup. Atos will invest more than 1.5 billion rubles ($48 million) in the Russian economy by 2014.

Putin said it was a “smart” decision by Atos, adding that the nation needs more of such investments.

The commission approved an investment from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, or EBRD, in Moscow firm Belaya Dacha Trading to develop existing and new facilities for packaged salad processing. The EBRD’s purchase of shares in several Russian financial services companies was also approved.

Other smaller deals blessed by the commission include foreign investment in cobalt mining and the tire industry. A review of Polyus Gold’s plan to change its registration to Britain was delayed and will be conducted next year, Tsyganov said.

Polyus, part-owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, is seeking a premium listing on London’s prestigious FTSE Index, but it must first register as a legal entity in Britain before it can qualify.

Several amendments to federal laws that ease foreign investment will come into effect in 2012.

Amendments include lifting government control from investment deals where international organizations such as the EBRD and the International Finance Corporation are investors. Another amendment exempts foreign companies from getting government permission to buy stocks in Russian oil, gas or mining companies if the total share remains under 25 percent.

The government’s objective is to create a favorable environment for foreign companies to invest in Russia, in areas such as food, medicine, banking and mining, Tsyganov said.

The liberalization in investment will be good for competition, he added.

“Russian markets have always been open in some way for international investment,” Tsyganov said. “For more than a decade we have lived in strict competition with foreign entrepreneurs who either invest in Russia or sell their services and products on the Russian market.”

Business will work under the new laws starting next year. The commission has approved 128 of 136 investment proposals since its creation in 2008, Tsyganov said.

in the spotlight: Cutting off Sobchak’s airtime

in the spotlight: Cutting off Sobchak’s airtime

Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)

Last week, the scandal around media personality and it-girl Ksenia Sobchak and her jokey exposure of youth tsar Vasily Yakemenko at a pricey restaurant deepened, as a national channel apparently pulled an interview with her.

Last month, Sobchak filmed Yakemenko, the clean-living founder of pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, having lunch at a restaurant serving very expensive oysters and posted the video on Twitter.

It was a rare case of poking fun at a self-righteous official, but a spokeswoman for Yakemenko’s Federal Agency for Youth Affairs reacted with venom by calling Sobchak a “cheap prostitute.” And, of course, the whole thing became an Internet sensation.

Sobchak then gave an interview on “Unreal Politics,” a late-night show on NTV, whose hosts are journalist Andrei Kolesnikov and television star Tina Kandelaki.

But the makers said the show had been pulled. Kandelaki wrote in her blog that Kolesnikov texted her to say the latest episodes had been pulled and he had decided to close the show all together.

She said she did not know why but guessed it was the “editorial policy of the channel’s management.” Kolesnikov also told Slon.ru that “naturally, this is about the leadership of the channel.”

The other episode was about President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Moscow State University’s journalism department, when placard-waving students were barred.

NTV, controlled by Gazprom Media, has run documentaries dishing the dirt on the Kremlin’s enemies, including billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

A spokeswoman for NTV told Slon.ru that the channel worked on a contract basis with the makers of “Unreal Politics” and it was wrong to say the episodes had been pulled because they had not been commissioned. But she did not say why they were not being aired.

Sobchak is close to Vladimir Putin, who entered politics through her late father, former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak. She began her career as a kind of Russian Paris Hilton, blond, wealthy and uninhibited. She became a household name by hosting Dom-2, TNT’s lowbrow reality show where contestants discuss their love lives around a campfire.

But she has also done more interesting things, such as interviewing famous people in a no-holds-barred style for GQ magazine. And she has firmly expressed some risky opinions, such as outspokenly criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church.

Both Kandelaki and Sobchak are avid Twitter users, so the whole story has played out there, too.

Evidently not on the best terms with Kolesnikov and Kandelaki, Sobchak on Thursday wrote that she suspected the show was on the point of closure anyway, because of low ratings, so the makers decided to go out with a bang.

Under Twitter pressure from Sobchak, Kandelaki posted both the shows on her blog.

In the interview, Sobchak was her usual provocative self, wearing a top that kept slipping off her bare shoulder.

She described Yakemenko as a “person with no sense of humor or irony about himself,” recalling his rebuke to a chubby activist that by overeating he was “stealing from the country and from Putin in particular.”

But she laughed off a suggestion from Kandelaki that she could be an opposition leader.

“I’m not an oppositionist. I’m not a person who will tomorrow go to the Russian March holding Navalny’s hand,” she said, apparently lumping all opposition in with nationalists and blogger Alexei Navalny.

Party time: slogans boom as elections loom

­Staunch communists are appealing to Soviet nostalgia: “Communists haven’t lied a single time in 100 years! We saved the country from fascism in WWII. We twice saved the country from collapsing. We were the first in space!” says Gennady Zyuganov proudly.

Liberal democrats are yet again appealing to nationalism.

“The Russian president should be the sole ruler in the Caucasus. We have to eliminate the clan culture in this region and introduce curfews in some areas. Video surveillance is a must,” says Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Meanwhile, Fair Russia comes up with a Robin Hood plan to help the poor with the money of the rich.

“Reform number one is fighting poverty and introducing tax on luxury! Business, on contrary, should breathe freely!” Sergey Mironov says.

There had been another runner in this race, lobbying for both small and big businesses – billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

Hopes were high he would create a powerful lobby for Western-minded liberals in Parliament. Prokhorov himself was even considering running for President.

But the campaign failed.

“It failed because of Prokhorov’s personality. He thought that to run a party is the same as to run a business. This is a strategic mistake! He considered other party members, who’d been with Right Cause much longer than him, not as teammates, but as his subordinates. And they responded by ousting him!” explains political analyst Sergey Markov.

The Right Cause party will take part in the vote, but it is listed as being among the outsiders.

One month ahead of the elections, polls suggest United Russia will gain at least 43 per cent of the votes. Coming second are Communists with 14 per cent. Next are the Liberal democrats, who will secure at least 9 per cent.

For the other four parties it will be largely about how they perform in TV debates.

And to secure at least one seat in the Duma they will have to overcome a 5 per cent threshold.

Dmitry Medvedev, who heads the United Russia party’s list, has even put his political future on the table, saying his possible post as the country’s Prime Minister could depend on how well the party performs at the election booths.

Prime Minister Putin is also backing United Russia and has even become somewhat of a trademark of the party over the years.

Victors in December’s Duma elections will each receive a sparkling, new tea set, a “welcome” gift from the Government. The specifics of the order are exacting: the sets must be made from white porcelain with gold trim, and the cups must hold a certain amount of tea. Interestingly, the sets are not all equal in size: 204 are “tea and coffee sets” for 12 persons, while the remaining 450 are just scaled-down six-person sets. Although it is not clear, which deputies will receive which set, some joked the discrepancy meant the United Russia party had concrete plans for a “tea party” of its own after the December vote, by winning at least 204 Duma seats.

Right Cause bans No. 2 in party list from being spokesman

The Right Cause party has decided to ban the No. 2 in the party list, Andrei Bogdanov, from speaking on behalf of the party and recommended not to use his image in its campaign.

“The decision is made,” the head of the executive committee, acting chairman of the Right Cause Andrei Dunaev said on Thursday.

Bogdanov was unaware of the party’s decision of not using his pictures during the campaign or of his forbidance to speak on behalf of the Right Cause.

“This is a mistake. I think you don’t have all the information. You have erroneous information,” Bogdanov said.

The former leader of the Right Cause party, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, left the party in mid-September after delegates to the party conference split into two factions. As a result, there were two rival party congresses on September 15. At one, leader Mikhail Prokhorov was dismissed from his position. At the other, Prokhorov said a “forcible takeover” of the party was underway and announced his departure, saying he planned to form a new political movement.

Prokhorov said his supporters – individuals and companies – wanted their money back. He himself contributed “a very small amount.”

Earlier this month at a meeting of the reformed party, Right Cause party members approved an election program and a list of candidates. Andrei Dunaev tops the list, followed by former presidential candidate Andrei Bogdanov and professional tennis player Anna Chakvetadze. The selection of a party leader was postponed until after the Duma elections. Dunaev said that if the party got into the State Duma, he would head it.

 

Lost in accounting: Right Cause and Mikhail Prokhorov

The Right Cause party must return 701.4 million rubles (22.8 million dollars) to the party’s former leader Mikhail Prokhorov, according to his press service. He also believes that the party is preparing a scheme not to refund the investments.

­Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian billionaire and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team, headed the pro-business political party from June 25 to September 15. When approved as the Right Cause leader, Prokhorov managed to attract significant funds to the party, which included private donations, as well as his own investments.

During a party convention in September, Right Party members voted for Prokhorov’s removal from office. This led the businessman to demand back his party investments, which were intended for the parliamentary election campaign.

Initially the sum was set at 500 million rubles (16.2 million dollars), eventually increasing to 701.4 million rubles (22.8 million dollars).

Prokhorov claims that “specially trained people” are working to keep the funds in the hands of the party.

Acting chairman of the party, Andrey Dunaev, has refuted the allegations, calling the statement “nonsense.”

“All in all, there were around 730 million rubles on the party’s account when Mikhail Prokhorov was its head,”
Dunaev said. “Of this amount about 40 million has been spent.”

“According to a Sberbank statement which we received immediately after we got access to the account, the balance accounted 730 million rubles. It might be the total sum donated to the party when Prokhorov was its leader,” Right Cause spokesperson Yarosalv Volpin explained. “The party accumulated a great number of financial obligations,” under Prokhorov, Volpin continued.

The funds will be returned to donors taking into account the necessity to settle unpaid debts, which includes at least one contractor, he added.

On October 20, Right Cause will hold a meeting of the political council which will consider all the refund requests from donors. Although removed from his leadership position in the party ranks, Mikhail Prokhorov still remains a Right Cause member.

Meanwhile, he has filed a request for exclusion from the party ranks. As Dunaev told Kommersant daily, that request would probably take effect immediately.

The Last Autumn in Putin’s Russia

The Last Autumn in Putin’s Russia

Published: October 12, 2011 (Issue # 1678)

For Russia’s liberals, 2011 has become the Year of Dashed Hopes. These mostly young professionals grew up after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and are avid Internet users. They also understood very well that “freedom is better than no freedom” long before President Dmitry Medvedev told them so. Many of them felt cautious optimism. They hoped that the upcoming elections would give them a chance to express their position and elect politicians who reflect their interests into the State Duma.

Political reality hit the optimists hard. In the spring, the liberal opposition Parnas party was refused registration. After that, the optimists warmly welcomed Mikhail Prokhorov and began to pin their hopes on the party he headed, Right Cause. But then Prokhorov achieved a world record for the shortest political career, disappearing from the political scene after only three months. And then came the United Russia convention and the inevitable return of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin. Instead of hope, optimists faced living the next 12 years in the same kind of stagnating society that their parents lived in under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

“Get out of the country” has become a popular slogan that functions on the Internet as a kind of community for discussing various countries for emigration. There’s no question that this is a political issue for most people. A St. Petersburg IT specialist going by the name of Tebedam wrote: “The only way to change your life for the better is to vote — for another place to live, if you have the opportunity. Of course, it would be wonderful to change Russia for the better, and many have already tried, but those attempts have ended badly. A week ago, I already made a decision. And if there is no bureaucratic red tape, by New Year’s I’ll be living on the West Coast of the United States.”

But Russians who can’t count on a Silicon Valley cubicle have to decide what to do in the December elections. Under Josef Stalin, depriving someone of his or her right to vote was a form of legal punishment. Today, once again millions of people are being deprived of their right to vote — this time because none of their candidates are allowed to run. This issue was discussed outside Moscow from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 at a political forum held with the poetic name of “The Last Autumn,” the name of a hit song by the rock group DDT that was popular among political activists in the perestroika years. Three possible courses of action were proposed.

Chess champion and former presidential candidate Garry Kasparov suggested boycotting the elections altogether. Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov disagreed, saying this would only make it easier for the authorities to falsify results. He suggested that people go to voting stations and mark up the ballots so that they are invalid. The popular blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny on his LiveJournal blog proposed voting for any party but United Russia. “This strategy will create the greatest number of practical problems for the crooks in the Kremlin and will make allies out of activists in other political parties,” he said.

The majority at the forum supported Navalny’s proposal. But they were perhaps less concerned with the elections and concentrated more on finding new forms of civil protest. As Solidarity activist Denis Bilunov wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “We more or less know what to do after the ‘Arab Spring’ when Internet usage is constantly growing and people are more tired of Putin’s stagnation. We need to elevate communication among the discontented to another level.”

This work is difficult to carry out when civil society is weak. But when society has no means to influence decision making at the top, the only alternative is violence. The Arab Spring showed this clearly. Coincidentally — or not — since the beginning of October, Moscow has been plagued by a series of car burnings, mostly expensive foreign makes. The most likely culprits are anarchists or nationalists. On Oct. 8 and 9, 11 cars were burned — in addition to the five burned in the previous days.

To understand the connection between the lack of political freedoms and violence, you don’t have to go back in history. Today in the North Caucasus republics, the party of power gets a very Soviet-esque 90 percent of the vote, while a civil war simmers in the background, bursting into terrorist acts virtually every week.

We can only hope that the authorities will wake up before this cancer of the North Caucasus metastasizes throughout the country.

Victor Davidoff is a Moscow-based writer and journalist whose blog is Chaadaev56.livejournal.com

Prokhorov says his political comeback possible

The former leader of the Right Cause party, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, said he would return to politics as soon as the Russian society is ripe, his press service said on Tuesday.

“Prokhorov said Russia needs changes, but conditions should be ripe. They aren’t yet… that’s why he decided to quit the party. However, the businessman stressed that he would return to politics as soon as conditions are ripe,” the statement reads.

The billionaire also said he now drafts a program of the Russian society development.

Prokhorov left the Right Cause after accusing some party members of illegally registering new members in his absence to win a majority and vote against his leadership. He said the party was “the Kremlin’s puppet project,” and said he would set up a new one.

Right Cause has enough money for election campaign

The Right Cause party is confident that it will have enough money for State Duma elections even after it returns all the donations made in support of its former leader, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.

Prokhorov’s spokesman said on Wednesday that Right Cause should return 650 million rubles ($21 million) to the oligarch’s supporters, and party officials have promised to do that. Party spokesman Yaroslav Volpin said there was 730 million rubles in the party’s account.

“Of course we will have to raise money, but it can be easily solved…We will find 350-400 million rubles by ourselves without any question. It is not a huge sum,” said Vyacheslav Smirnov, one of the party’s candidates for a Duma seat.

He promised that all the money invested in the party during Prokhorov’s leadership would be paid back.

The No. 2 in the party, Andrey Bogdanov, added that donations were still coming to the party’s account. “That is why nobody can definitely say how much money will be spent on the election campaign. It could be 350, 400 or 700 million rubles.”

Prokhorov left the party in mid-September after delegates to the party conference split into two factions. As a result, there were two rival party congresses on September 15. At one, leader Mikhail Prokhorov was dismissed from his position. At the other, Prokhorov said a “forcible takeover” of the party was underway and announced his departure, saying he planned to form a new political movement.

Prokhorov said his supporters – individuals and companies – wanted their money back. He himself contributed “a very small sum.”

At a meeting of the remade party, Right Cause party members approved an election program and a list of candidates. Andrey Dunaev tops the list, followed by former presidential candidate Andrey Bogdanov and professional tennis player Anna Chakvetadze. Selection of a party leader was postponed until after the Duma election. Dunaev said that if the party got into the State Duma, he would head it.

Andrey Bogdanov said that “the party has no allies, as all the other parties come from the previous century. We consider ourselves new, young, from this century.” He added that Right Cause’s supporters were “those who are tired of the people on TV…those who are tired of the previous century,” a group that he estimates includes more than 30% of the electorate.

“Yes, maybe half of these people do not vote, as there is no line for ‘against all’. This line is provided by our party. By voting for Right Cause, they will vote against all, everyone who came from the previous century,” said Bogdanov.

He added that the party would fight to get 7% of the vote, the threshold for winning seats in the Duma. “If we manage to get 7% out of that 30%, it would be great.”

Tennis player Anna Chakvetadze, the No. 3 on the list, said she joined the party because it was young and everyone in politics “is boring and cloying. I hope our party will be a breath of fresh air for our electorate.”

Meanwhile, one plank of the party’s platform would allow Russians to possess short-barrelled weapons for self defense.

“We are for amendments to gun-control legislation covering short-barrelled guns,” said Vyacheslav Smirnov. He added that short-barrelled guns are allowed in many countries, and many physically and mentally healthy people consider having one pretty normal. A person who “has no problem with his head, is not a drug addict and has no criminal record” should be allowed to have guns.

“The best weapon for self defense is a Makarov pistol,” said Smirnov.

The party also supports a return to the direct election of governors and city mayors, the possibility of electing the Federation Council, lowering and ultimately eliminating the electoral threshold for parliament and easing party registration requirements. Party members believe at least have the seats in the State Duma should be filled in single-constituency elections among candidates who are members of one or more registered parties.

Right Cause members also believe gas should be priced in the range 15-17 rubles per liter. The party also suggests reducing taxes for small and medium businesses and setting a moratorium on changing tax rates for 5-10 years.

 

Twelve Days That Shook The Kremlin

It took less than two weeks for the long-standing debate in Russia’s ruling elite to come to a screeching halt.

On September 15, Mikhail Prokhorov abruptly resigned as chairman of Right Cause, casting a cloud over plans for a regime-friendly center-right party to enter the State Duma.

Ten days later, on September 24, United Russia nominated Vladimir Putin as its candidate for president in 2012, dashing the hopes of those who hoped to see Dmitry Medvedev remain in the Kremlin for a second term.

And two days later, on September 26, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin resigned following a public dustup ostensibly over military spending, removing one of the most strident advocates of fiscal probity and political reform from the government.

The managed-democracy project, if not dead, appears to be on life support at best (Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko may still yet get into the State Duma as a token liberal party). And with Putin set to occupy the Kremlin until 2024, any hopes for economic modernization and a gradual transition to more democratic governance have been buried.

But was this really preordained? In his speech at the United Russia congress, Medvedev provoked cries of betrayal from his supporters when he suggested as much, saying the decision for Putin to return was made “years ago.”

The past four years could conceivably have been a big ruse, with only Putin and Medvedev in on the con — but color me skeptical on that score. The evidence overwhelmingly points to a debate over how to proceed post-2012 among the inner core of the ruling elite. And one side won and one side lost — decisively.

The result was the mirror image of the decision back in 2007-08, when Putin resisted the appeals of Igor Sechin, Viktor Ivanov, and others urging him to change the constitution and serve a third consecutive term.

This time, those seeking Putin’s return to the Kremlin won the argument. And there was an argument, not just about the Putin-Medvedev question, but also the composition of the State Duma and whether United Russia would be allowed a continued constitutional majority.

The lines were often blurred and it wasn’t always easy to determine who was on which side (with the exception of obvious advocates of a Putin return like Sechin and supporters of political reform like Kudrin). Some, like Deputy Kremlin Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, the regime’s unofficial ideologist, appeared to be playing both sides of the fence.

Back in June 2009, for example, Surkov appeared to telegraph the doomed Right Cause project when he argued that United Russia needed to share power in the Duma with other parties.

“We believe that once a system has settled, there should be more degrees of freedom inside it. One should be flexible, one should learn to enter into coalitions. Democracy is a compromise. Democracy is a procedure. It’s a tedious one, but it’s a procedure,” Surkov said at the time.

Surkov’s comments drew a harsh response from Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, who said: “Our parliament of the majority based on one party is a necessity for Russia…. The parliamentary majority allows us to adopt laws that determine political and economic stability.”

Looks like Gryzlov won that argument. Or Surkov had second thoughts.

Another sign of conflict inside the elite was the abrupt departure from the Kremlin in April of onetime uber-spinmeister Gleb Pavlovsky, one of the key architects of Putin’s first presidential campaign in 2000.

Pavlovsky was a vocal proponent of a second term for Medvedev, with Putin keeping a dominant role in Russian politics and was becoming increasingly critical of United Russia. And it was for these sins that he was reportedly pushed out into the wilderness.

In interviews after his firing, Pavlovsky said the elite was close to endorsing a second term for Medvedev but was getting cold feet.

“I think that, of course, that first and foremost, this debate is painful for Putin. Not easy for him to step aside. Also, he rightly fears that there could be instability in the bureaucracy after the nomination of a candidate,” he told Gazeta.ru.

Moreover, on several occasions, Kudrin spoke out in favor of greater democracy — at the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum in February, in an interview with “The Wall Street Journal” in April, and in an interview with “The New York Times” in June.

Kudrin’s basic argument was that effective economic reform was not possible without political reform because the authorities will need a “mandate of trust” from the people.

So the argument came down to this: one side argued that modernizing Russia’s economy requires at least limited reforms of the political system while another argued that loosening things up politically could lead to instability and chaos.

Putin was going to be the key player in either scenario — he could be the formal leader as president or an informal national leader and head of the deep state. Putin is indispensible because he is the power broker among the Kremlin clans and without him, open warfare among them would likely break out.

I expected, wrongly, Putin to choose the informal leader route. In a recent interview, longtime Russia-watcher Edward Lucas, the international editor of “The Economist” and author of “The New Cold War,” offered interesting insight into why Putin and a critical mass of the elite decided he had to return to the Kremlin:

— Brian Whitmore

If You Can’t Beat Other Parties, Absorb Them

If You Can’t Beat Other Parties, Absorb Them

Published: September 21, 2011 (Issue # 1675)

The scandal about how Mikhail Prokhorov was first recruited and then cast out of the Right Cause party calls into question whether there is a place for political parties in an authoritarian political system. If there is, can those parties be the initiators and leaders of peaceful or revolutionary democratic change? Does it make sense to vote for Kremlin-approved parties in the December State Duma elections in the hope that they will loosen the power of the current authoritarian regime?  

Paradoxically, authoritarian regimes are often multiparty systems, although that pluralism is only nominal.

China is a good example of a nominally multiparty system. Aside from the Communist Party that holds a monopoly on power, there are eight political parties that were created before the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949 and implicitly accept the commanding role of the Communist Party. All the parties are combined into a common front headed by the Communist Party and play a purely consultative role as part of a special institution called the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Another example was East Germany, as it had a nominally multiparty system under a Communist dictatorship. As in China, East Germany inherited its multiparty system from the country’s democratic period before the war. The Communist Party of Germany ruled the country with assistance from the Soviet Union right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Social Democratic Party of Germany was re-established in East Germany immediately after the war’s end. In fact, by late 1945 the Social Democratic Party was the largest political party in the Soviet occupation zone. In addition, East Germany had the Christian Democratic Union and the Liberal Democratic Party.

These techniques enable a ruling party to turn formerly independent political parties with their own traditions into satellites or subordinates of the dominant party. Many of those same tricks are employed in today’s Russia.

As early as July 1945, four parties inside the Soviet occupation zone in East Germany formed an “anti-fascist democratic bloc” with the aim of working together to rebuild their country. As with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s All-Russia People’s Front, that bloc enlisted a variety of civil organizations such as women’s and cultural groups. The bloc’s leader, Walter Ulbricht, once said, “Everything has to look democratic, but it should be under our control.” You cannot help but think about Russia when reading this quote.

The system of “co-participant parties” in East Germany did not become the engine moving the country toward democracy and the fall of the Communist dictatorship in 1990. Instead, these parties moved in the wake of revolutionary events. The turning point was the elections held on May 7, 1989, when 10 percent to 20 percent of people voted against the unified list of the “anti-fascist bloc,” although official statistics claim that 98.89 percent of the population voted for it. Also that year, 120,000 East German citizens applied for emigration. Dissidents operating underground became leaders of the revolution and the masses rallied around them. In the end, the authorities were forced to sit down at the negotiating table with them.

As a second step, the smaller Communist Party of Germany forced the larger Social Democratic Party into a merger that essentially swallowed the latter. By April 1946, the two had combined into a single party — the Socialist Unity Party of Germany — that immediately held hegemony over the political system of the country.

In similar fashion, the Unity party swallowed up the Fatherland-All Russia party headed by then-Mayor Yury Luzhkov to form United Russia. Later, United Russia swallowed up a number of other minor parties as well, including the Agrarian Party. Similarly, in 2006 the pro-Kremlin Life Party headed by Sergei Mironov absorbed the Rodina party and Pensioners’ Party through mergers. Forcing independent parties to merge with larger pro-government parties helps the Kremlin monopolize political power.

The techniques of replacing disloyal leaders with loyal ones and creating artificial puppet parties are widely practiced in Russia today. It is interesting that in East Germany, Social Unity Party officers would handpick the entire leadership of the new parties they created — strikingly similar to what happened with Right Cause and its short-lived chairman, Prokhorov.

History demonstrates that satellite or subordinate parties in an authoritarian system cannot be the initiators of change. On the contrary, they either disappear or change completely with the collapse of the ruling regime. Real change is brought on by society itself. The leaders of that transition are individuals who enjoy the public’s confidence and not those who are responsible for the crimes committed by the failed regime.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a State Duma deputy from 1993 to 2007, hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio and is co-founder of the opposition Party of People’s Freedom.

Prokhorov And Friends Get Rough Ride In Russian Media

The glowing coverage that business magnate Mikhail Prokhorov had been receiving from Russia’s state-controlled media for months has come to an abrupt end.

And in its place, television viewers are being fed critical — and clearly orchestrated — investigative reports targeting the tycoon’s allies, including the legendary pop diva Alla Pugacheva and the controversial antidrug crusader Yevgeny Roizman.

In a move that shook Russia’s political establishment, Prokhorov resigned from the Kremlin-backed Right Cause party last week.

He also called Russia’s party system a sham and accused President Dmitry Medvedev’s powerful First Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov of being a “puppet master” who manipulates the country’s politics from behind the Kremlin’s walls.

It is unclear what now lies ahead for the billionaire, who according to analysts was tapped by the Kremlin three months ago to lead Right Cause as a regime-friendly and pro-business party in an effort to win votes from the liberal pro-reform minded electorate.

But analysts say Prokhorov must have angered powerful backers in the Kremlin despite originally agreeing with them.

“Prokhorov was from the start [acting] at the discretion of the decision makers in Russia,” says Masha Lipman an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center.

“He was given the go-ahead to lead the party and campaign, but not a go-ahead on how he was going to campaign. Apparently, some of what he was doing was in conflict with the ideas of his minders.”

‘Same Treatment’ As Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky

Prokhorov’s resignation on September 15 came after insurgent members of the party attempted to remove him as leader.

Arina Borodina, a television critic for the influential daily “Kommersant,” wrote on September 16 that Prokhorov then simply “disappeared” from federal television channels in the space of a day.


Arina Borodina, a commentator for the “Kommersant” daily
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Borodina maintains that there been a striking change in how Prokhorov is portrayed on television.

“As far as I know the Kremlin ban on bringing the Prokhorov saga to light is extremely strict,” she says. “It was very striking when, on the evening of September 15, Prokhorov was referred to without using his name.”

“That’s the same treatment as [exiled oligarch Boris] Berezovsky, [opposition leader Mikhail] Kasyanov, and [jailed oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky. These are people not worthy of being named by their names.”

On September 16, the nominally private but Kremlin-controlled television station NTV state news aired a documentary about Roizman’s criminal past of theft and fraud.

And on September 18, the pop legend Pugacheva, who had joined Right Cause just days before Prokhorov stormed out, was accused of taking part in financial pyramid schemes in a documentary titled “Alla, Give Us a Million!”

Pugacheva sided with Prokhorov against Surkov, calling the top Kremlin official “crazy.”

But Borodina said that, while the program “discrediting” Pugacheva would have certainly been viewed as “timely” by the Russian authorities, unlike the Roizman documentary it could not have been part of the black PR campaign since it was planned two weeks ago.

There has been some media speculation that he could suffer the same fate of jailed oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was arrested in 2003 after running foul of the Kremlin. Prokhorov says he has no fears of prosecution.

Right Cause Faces Bleak Prospects

Lipman believes the overnight change in media coverage of Prokhorov sends a clear message:

“This [change in media coverage] only emphasizes the ultimate truth,” she says.


Russia Analyst Masha Lipman
“Whatever lies behind political intrigue or whatever political maneuvering lies behind the scandal – one thing remains unchanged and that is that the political scene is monopolized by the top of the executive branch and they can play however they see fit.”

Facing bleak prospects in the December 4 State Duma elections, some members of Right Cause indicated on September 21 that they would welcome Prokhorov’s return as party leader, but the tycoon indicated that he was not interested. Analysts remain divided on what actually caused the rift between Prokhorov and his Kremlin minders.

The Kremlin is believed to have been angered by Prokhorov’s recruitment of Roizman, a highly controversial figure.

Other speculation has focused on Prokhorov’s moves to recruit nationalists to the party and move its platform in a more populist direction, straying from the pro-business orientation that the Kremlin favored.

Yavlinsky 2.0

The Power Vertical

Russia — Yabloko party founder Grigory Yavlinsky speaks at the party’s 16th congress, 10Sep2011

Who stands to benefit from the reshuffling of political forces in the wake of Right Cause’s embarrassing public meltdown and Mikhail Prokhorov’s abrupt exit from the scene?

As improbable as this might seem, an increasing number of commentators seem to think it might be Yabloko, which has been pretty much a non-factor in Russian politics since the party failed to get into the State Duma in the 2003 elections.

This might just be wishful thinking. Like many Western Russia-watchers, I had high hopes for Yabloko in the 1990s — hopes that were ultimately never realized.

Nevertheless, given the amount of media attention it has received, a potential Yabloko renaissance is worth examining.

Yabloko founder Grigory Yavlinsky, who stepped down as party chairman in 2008 and pretty much disappeared from public life ever since, made a high-profile return to the political stage this month.

He will lead Yabloko’s party list in the December 4 Duma elections. He has been getting a surprising amount of media oxygen lately. And with two Kremlin-friendly projects, the pro-business Right Cause and the ostensibly center-left A Just Russia, on the skids, there might just be an opening for him to lead his party into the Duma.

“Indisputably there is one beneficiary that will gain from the [Right Cause] scandal. It is the Yabloko party, the constituency of which may be joined by part of the Right Cause consistency,” political analyst Dmitry Orlov told Interfax. “My forecast is that the scandal will result in a certain increase in voter support for Yabloko party which in the future may come very close to clearing the barrier.”

In a video posted on his blog, Yavlinsky explained to supporters his reasons for returning to the political arena, saying that there was a real chance for change. “I don’t have the right to stand aside,” he said. “I don’t know if I will be able to change anything. But I don’t have the right not to try to do this with all my strength.”

WATCH THE VIDEO:

But as anybody who follows Russian politics knows, it is not enough for Yavlinsky to run a strong campaign and capture the constituencies that would have otherwise voted for Right Cause or A Just Russia. And it also won’t be enough for him use the Internet to bring new voters to the polls who would have otherwise stayed home (which he has indicated he plans to do).

In Russia, nobody gets into the Duma unless the ruling elite wants them to get into the Duma — that is the reality.

But another reality is that a significant part of the ruling elite wants a more pluralistic Duma to reflect the aspirations of an emerging middle class and to deflect growing dissent among the liberal intelligentsia and professional classes.

So are the Kremlin’s political managers who dreamed up and then abandoned the Right Cause project (and the A Just Russia project before it) ready to dance with Yavlinsky? And just as importantly, is the famously prickly and independent Yavlinsky ready to dance with them?

Some of the traditional tea leaves one needs to read to assess such things suggest this might be the case.

For example, just today (as I was writing this blog!) Yavlinsky was featured in an extensive 40-minute interview on the state-run Vesti-24 channel’s flagship interview program “Mnenye” (Opinion), something that would have been unthinkable just months ago. Things like that don’t happen by accident in Russia. (It’s too early to post a link, but I will do so once one becomes available.)

A recent story in “Nezavisimaya gazeta” analyzing the causes and consequences of the Right Cause debacle suggested that Yavlinsky could conceivably play the role in the Duma that was intended for Prokhorov:

I’ll be watching this with interest in the coming weeks, but for the time being color me skeptical. As a reporter in Russia in the 1990s, I watched Yavlinsky at close range and interacted with him often. I have a hard time seeing him playing the obedient role of a Kremlin-sanctioned “opposition” figure. Moreover, Vladislav Surkov’s team of Kremlin spin doctors knows this much better than I do and will probably balk at taking a risk on such a defiant figure.

And finally, one has to wonder: Would a housebroken Yavlinsky still be Yavlinsky?

— Brian Whitmore

Tags: 2011 State Duma elections, Grigory Yavlinsky