Is Billionaire NBA Nets Owner Really Challenging Putin?

NBA New Jersey Nets owner, Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, announced yesterday that he is going to challenge Vladimir Putin in Russia’s upcoming presidential election, scheduled to take place in March of 2012. Prokhorov said it was “the most serious decision” of his life.

Prokhorov’s announcement comes in the wake of last weekend’s enormous anti government protest in Moscow. The BBC reported that “As many as 50,000 people gathered on an island near the Kremlin to condemn alleged ballot-rigging in parliamentary elections and demand a re-run.”

The “official results” of the widely disputed election, show Putin’s United Russia Party winning 52.88% of the Duma seats, down from the 70% they won in 2007.

After the elections took place on December 4, AP reported that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “told reporters that the law may have been violated during Sunday’s vote.”

On Septmeber 15, as he was about to either quit or be ousted from the leadership of The Right Cause Party, The New York Times reported that “Prokhorov described Russia’s party system as an elaborate sham orchestrated by a ‘puppet master’ within the Kremlin walls.” Just a few months earlier, Prokhorov had taken over the leadership of that party which supposedly had a liberal, pro business agenda.

On September 16, The Moscow Times wrote that Prokhorov had quit The Right Cause Party. He is reported to have said “There is a puppet master in our country who has privatized the whole political system — (Vladislav) Surkov. He needs to be fired. Only then we can have real politics,” Surkov is First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration and is strongly allied with Putin. Prokhorov’s opponents inside the Right Cause Party were led by political strategist Andrei Bogdanov and party executive committee member, Andrei Dunayev. According to The Moscow Times,

Dissenters, led by political strategist Andrei Bogdanov and party boss Andrei Dunayev, blamed the rift on Prokhorov’s dictatorial leadership style and his enlistment of radical anti-drug activist and nationalist Yevgeny Roizman.

When asked at Monday’s press conference, how he planned to deal with Surkov in the course of his campaign, Prokhorov answered, “I plan to become his boss.”

The fact that Prokhovov is now suggesting that he might become Surkov, “The Puppet master’s” boss, rather than just firing him, might have added to the rampant speculation that Prokhorov is not going to wage a serious campaign, and that he is actually working in accord with Putin, helping to cast a veneer of legitimacy over the election, and to siphon votes from other opposition parties.

Today, The Website of Radio Free Europe, noted that

It took under an hour for news of Mikhail Prokhorov’s surprise bid for the presidency to be written off on blogs as a Kremlin ruse to siphon off votes from would-be challengers to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

RFERL cited a blog post by political analyst Marina Litvinovitch. Litvinovich wrote:

“Prokhorov may position himself entirely like an opposition candidate in order to draw attention to himself, votes, and the aspirations of people on Bolotnaya [Square]. And so that people like [opposition leaders Eduard] Limonov, [Boris] Nemtsov, [Aleksei] Navalny, [Boris] Akunin, and [Yevgenia] Chirikova disappear from the field of vision, leaving behind one opposition candidate.”

While acknowledging that “opposition leaders quickly alleged that Monday’s surprise decision is a Kremlin ploy to split the vote”, The Globe and Mail (UK) also speculated that “the mining magnate and owner of the New Jersey Nets could be a galvanizing figure to the thousands of Russians protesting alleged election fraud and widespread corruption.”

When asked at a press conference about the risks of challenging Putin, Prokhovov responded. “There is saying in Russia: Never say never, anyone can end up behind bars. But I am not afraid,”

He no doubt is aware of what happened to Russian Billionaires Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. They both now reside in Russian jails, “prisoners of conscience”, according to Amnesty International.
Russian International News Agency (RIA Novosti) reports,

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were originally convicted of fraud and tax evasion in a separate trial in 2005 after spending two years in pre-trial detention. The new ruling means they will stay in prison until at least 2016, well after next year’s presidential election.
The case is widely viewed as a political vendetta by Russia’s powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, whom Khodorkovsky challenged by funding liberal opposition parties in the early 2000s.

Based on the experiences of his fellow Russian Billionaires, Prokohov might want to consider campaigning from the comfy confines of New York City. He could probably find a reasonably priced hotel there, if he goes on Priceline or Hotwire. Prokhorov should probably try to find a room somewhere around Times Square. That way, he could walk from to the Port Authority and get a shuttle bus to see his Nets play in East Rutherford, NJ. The neighborhood is also convenient to the subway. He could take that to Atlantic Ave. and watch the Construction of Barclays Center, which starting next Fall, will be the home of Prokhovov’s Brooklyn Nets.

Prokhovov's Billionaire Home

Watch Steve Croft on 60 Minutes Visit Mikhael Prokohov's Billionaire House

Click here to watch Steve Croft on 60 minutes, visit Prokhorov’s billionaire home.

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