MOSCOW The news was celebrated in the international press. But the announcement that billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov plans to challenge Vladimir Putin in next years presidential election generated notably mixed reactions in Russia.
Though some are glad that Putin will have a prominent opponent, other Russians consider the candidacy of the former head of the Right Cause party the latest scheme in an elaborate Kremlin project.
Prokhorov, who owns the NBA basketball team the New Jersey Nets, says he is now preparing the official platform for his candidacy, which he has promised to publish in January. He said his policies will only deal with the concerns of the people and will not be based on criticizing Putin but will be a positive statement on what should be done.
He insisted that he alone took the decision to run for president and was not advised either by Putin, or Medvedev or (Kremlin chief strategist Vladislav) Sukov. The Russian news wire RIA Novosti reported that Putin was aware of Prokhorov's candidacy.
To register as an independent candidate, Prokorov has until Dec. 15 to collect signatures from 500 voters. He would then have until Jan. 18 to gather 2 million signatures to get on the March ballot.
The candidates political aspirations appeared to be cut short earlier in the year when he called the country's party system a sham.
A Kremlin response?
Boris Nadezhdin, a co-chair of the Right Cause party, is happy with the nomination of Prokhorov, who will be the candidate for those who do not accept Putin. He will help create a liberal-democratic party that can unite the interests of the bureaucracy, business community and street protesters, Nadezhdin said.
Prokhorov said even if he doesn't win the election, he aims to build a political party for the long term.
You need your ideas to bring an open and coherent program to society, he said. Prokhorov added that while he shares many views with former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, they were not taking any steps to establish a new party.
Political insiders and opposition figures were skeptical of the candidates intentions. Director of the National Strategy Institute Stanislav Belovsky called the Prokhorov candidacy a Kremlin response.
Opposition candidate Boris Nemtsov, who was arrested during the post-election protests last week, said the main purpose of Prokhorov's candidacy was to split the right parties. Nemtsov does not rule out that later on, Prokhorov will withdraw his candidacy in favor of Putin.
Leader of the Yabloko party Sergei Mitrokhin said Prokhorov may seem like a viable alternative, but that ultimately people will not vote for him. The head of the Center for Elite Studies, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, agreed. Only a small proportion of the electorate will vote for Prokhorov, he said.
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