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Is Prokhorov's candidacy for real? Amid the coverage, some opposition figures say he's a Kremlin stooge

Is Russian billionaire (and Nets majority owner) Mikhail Prokhorov's (NBA-sanctioned) foray into politics a Kremlin-sanctioned play? Amid all the coverage, that's a minority view, but it's one taken by some respected opposition figure and backed by some circumstantial evidence.
 
The New York Daily News, in an editorial yesterday, saluted Prokhorov:
The unthinkable appears to be happening to Vladimir Putin: A formidable figure will challenge the Russian strongman in that country’s 2012 presidential election.

Raise a glass of Stoli to adopted New York billionaire and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov for having the guts even to say that he’ll try to dethrone the ruthless would-be leader-for-life.
What if he's a fake?

But Newsweek/Daily Beast correspondent Anna Nemtsova asked on 12/12/11, Is Russia’s Mikhail Prokhorov a Fake Challenger for Vladimir Putin?:
On Monday they finally clashed. Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets, announced that he would run for president against Putin, an act that means he recognizes the current prime minister as a legitimate candidate. [Boris] Nemtsov and other opposition leaders, meanwhile, are calling for Russians to take to the streets next week and demand Putin’s resignation.

Flirting with a crowd of journalists this afternoon, a playful smile on his lips, Prokhorov said he had made “the most serious decision” of his life. The oligarch—chosen by the Kremlin in June to lead the newly created pseudoliberal Right Cause party before being ousted in September—would become a candidate in the presidential election in March. If he failed to win, he said, he would create a new party that would support the Russian middle class.

But what about the revolution Nemtsov and the other opposition leaders say they’re planning? “I am against bloody revolutions, I am much more in favor of evolutions,” Prokhorov told reporters. Independent candidates have often been rejected by Russia’s election commission when trying to register, so journalists asked the tycoon repeatedly whether his decision to run had been approved by Putin or by the Kremlin’s administrator for political affairs, Vladislav Surkov. Prokhorov denied he had met with either of them.
Why did Prokhorov get such coverage?

Nemtsov offered further criticism in Global Post's Is Mikhail Prokhorov a Kremlin stooge?, which also noted the curious media response:
Just last week, as Moscow protests against alleged electoral fraud mounted, Prokhorov's nemesis, the "puppet master" Surkov, mused in a rare interview, with blogger Sergei Minayev, that what is missing from the political spectrum he engineered on behalf of the Kremlin is "a mass liberal party. . . to appeal to disgruntled urban communities."

Though Prokhorov insisted that he has not met with Surkov or Putin since the fiasco with his party, and added that "I have far fewer friends in the Kremlin than I used to," many Russian liberals say the tycoon's sudden offer to act as the champion of the beleaguered middle class smacks of nothing so much as Surkov-style stagecraft. The fact that Russian state TV channels reported Prokhorov's declaration as leading news — even though they completely ignored last week's anti-fraud protests and gave only sparing coverage to Saturday's huge Moscow rally — only inflames the skeptics.

..Former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, co-leader of the liberal Party of People's Freedom — which has been banned from fielding its own presidential candidate — says flatly that Prokhorov's candidacy is "just a deal with the Kremlin. . . No billionaire can run for president in this country without Putin's agreement, and no serious candidate with a chance of winning would be allowed to run. Maybe he'll be rewarded after this with a new party of his own, or some government post," he says.
Time will tell

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, in today's Prokhorov's Bid For Russian Presidency -- Kremlin Ruse Or Real News?, suggested that the campaign itself will provide evidence:
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.

The knee-jerk reaction was not based on hard facts, but it showed -- at the very least -- that the charismatic billionaire may find it difficult to harness the public discontent that on December 10 spilled out into the largest anti-Kremlin rally since the early 1990s.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, director of the Panorama Center, says that the ease with which Prokhorov’s campaign develops will indicate whether he is indeed a “Kremlin project.”

“We can’t say for certain yet. It all depends on whether he manages to register. If they register him, then it was definitely sanctioned by Surkov, and Surkov is carrying out Putin’s will," Pribylovsky says. "Surkov gives counsel and Putin either approves it or not. There just isn’t enough information yet. This check will tell us.”

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