Russia: “Mikhail Dmitrievich Prokhorov: An Unpredictable Kremlin Project”

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.

Mikhail Prokhorov will oppose Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March 2012 Russian presidential election. Although some believe the election's outcome to be pre-scripted, the complexities surrounding Mr. Prokhorov's candidacy – such as the degree of his wealth as well as the origins of it, his relationship with PM Putin as well as Mikail Khodorkovsky, and the comprehensive political programme he released last week – should not be overlooked.

Global Voices analyzed the complexities of modern US-Russia relations in an article entitled, “Obama's McFaul Sworn in as US Ambassador.”

The Washington Post Blog provided insight into the American perception of Mr. Prokhorov through its announcement of his candidacy:

First Brooklyn, then… the world.

In a move more shocking than any rumored trade involving Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has announced his intention to challenge Vladi­mir Putin for the Russian presidency.

The 46-year-old policital newcomer was elected to lead Russia’s Right Cause party in late June, and at the time made minor waves with his statements about the country’s need for a multi-party system.

The tens of thousands of protesters on the streets in Russia are also looking for change — but the difficult task facing Prokhorov is earning their support.

For what he lacks in experience, Prokhorov makes up for in fortune. With an estimated worth of $18 billion, Prokhorov has financial means to build a large-scale campaign, but uniting the masses crying out for clean elections and an end to corruption is a daunting task.

Mr. Prokhorov's official website, which is available in both English and Russian, provides readers and/or potential voters with excerpts of speeches, commentaries, news updates, and details of his background:

Mikhail Prokhorov was born in Moscow on May 3, 1965. His father worked as Head of the International Relations Department of the Soviet State Sports Committee; his mother did scientific research work at the Moscow Chemical Materials Institute. Mikhail has an elder sister, Irina.

Upon completion of secondary education with a focus on English studies, Mikhail studied at the Moscow Finance Institute (currently known as the Finance Academy under the RF Government), from which he graduated magna cum laude.

Ian Bremmer wrote in Reuters Blog soon after Mr. Prokhorov's candidacy was announced that the 2012 Russian presidential election had already been scripted:

Prokhorov has not forgotten that he owes his fortune and therefore his allegiance to Putin. As he already stated in his press conference, he doesn’t plan to dwell on attacking Putin (no more than 10% of his platform will be anti-Putin), but rather would like to talk about his plans for Russia. Kudrin has all but ignored Putin in laying out his case for a new party. Imagine if Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney came out tomorrow and said they were done attacking President Obama and wanted to focus solely on their plans for the U.S. Both Kudrin and Prokhorov represent ‘acceptable opposition’ to Moscow. That’s a recipe for a gracious but certain defeat. Kudrin owes his allegiance to Putin for slightly different reasons, but the result is the same: both candidates exist to draw off votes and appease the intellectual classes who are disenchanted with Putin’s leadership. But they will do nothing to keep Putin from a third term as President.

Putin will run a campaign — he will go to a supermarket, complain that prices are too high, and prices will be lowered. He will find some way to distribute a token amount of the natural resource wealth to the public, such as ordering a price cap on gasoline.  He will spend the money it takes to make a noticeable impact for his base. He’ll make the gestures to the public and the media that he deserves a third term. And he’ll get it.

Russian businessman Mikhail Prokhorov carries a box containing signatures to support his presidential candidacy before handing them in to the Central Election Commission. Photo by RFE/RL, copyright © Demotix (18/01/12).

Stephen Weil assessed in a post entitled, “Mikhail Dmitrievich Prokhorov: An Unpredictable Kremlin Project” for the Center for Strategic and International Studies Blog the validity of Prokhorov's candidacy:

It is possible that Prokhorov has simply decided to take advantage of a political opening to rejuvenate his political project, but many Russian observers seem convinced that his campaign is actually a Kremlin-backed ploy designed to lure the support of urban, middle class voters away from more viable opposition candidates while simultaneously providing more competition, and thus more legitimacy, for Putin’s inevitable inauguration.  The evidence seems to stack up in favor of this more cynical view, although the potential remains for Prokhorov to stray outside of his Kremlin-approved agenda, prompting a re-run of his conflict with the authorities over Right Cause.

One indication that Mr. Prokhorov is, perhaps, acting independently is his promise to release Mikhail Khodorkovsky from prison if he's elected, as illustrated in a Global Voices article entitled, “Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the 2012 Presidential Election”:

Formerly Russia's richest man, jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky is once again in the political spotlight, as Russian presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov vows to pardon Mr. Khodorkovsky if he's elected next spring. Mr. Khodorkovsky has been incarcerated since 2003, when he was arrested for non-payment of back-taxes as part of the “Yukos Affair“. Many have doubted the validity of the charges against him and view his prosecution as part of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's political agenda.

Mr. Prokhorov released a political programme [ru] last week, which outlines in detail his plans on how to ensure Russia lives up to its potential. Some of his opening remarks were:

We choose a cool, fashionable, modern country, where every person is responsible for [his/her] actions, has access to education, work opportunities, growth and constantly strives for the best. We choose a country where everyone is equal before the law – regardless of position and privilege – [a country] which does not accept overbearing tyranny, a country where the judiciary is independent. We choose a real future because we want to live and be happy in our own country, we want to work, build, make discoveries and breakthroughs in science and art for [Russia's] benefit. I am convinced that the main treasure of Russia is its human potential, and a major strategic investment is an investment in people. I want us all to remember that we are the heirs of the greatest world culture, an integral part of the European civilization, and it is our great responsibility. Russia must cease to be an outsider of the world process, but must instead serve as a model, [a leader] for the civilized world, the most educated, cultured, free and prosperous country of the third millennium. Only a free man in a free country has the ability to create and build in the public interest! I believe that together we can make a difference and change for the better. I want to build a real future of Russia together with you.

RiaNovosti discussed some of the specifics of the program including plans for fighting corruption and monopolies as well as improving Russia's infrastructure, healthcare system, and social services. The comments that followed displayed skepticism.


Mr Prokhorov how did you earn your 1rst billion? please refresh my memory. As for rest of your plan getting rid of RF independence and making Russia a colony is best way to protect your billions Euro transferred in 90s/2000s? or am I wrong?


This guy is only trying to corrupt the [elite] to better gain means of control and gain more power, To say short he is a criminal.

Finally, Los That Sports Blog noted that if Mr. Prokhorov does run a successful campaign and is elected to the Russian Presidency, such a post could affect his responsibilities to the NBA:

It will be interesting to see, if elected, how his political responsibilities impact Prokhorov’s involvement with the Nets. Prokhorov purchased the Nets in May 2010 and holds an 80% stake in the franchise, as well as 45% in the new Barclay Center, where the Nets will be moving to in 2012. Prokhorov is the first non-American NBA owner and tallest at 6’8″ (random).

This post is part of our special coverage Russia Elections 2011/12.

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