Thursday, December 15, 2011

Prokhorov announces plans to buy major media group, pardon Khodorkovsky; is not likely to gain much support

Despite doubts about his candidacy, Russian presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov is saying the right things, announcing plans to pardon jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose conviction is seen as Kremlin-directed.

Meanwhile, Is Prokhorov learning from Silvio Berlusconi and Mike Bloomberg, not to mention Mort Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch? Apparently. The AP reports:
The billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets running for the Russian presidency against Vladimir Putin is expected to make a formal offer to buy a leading media holding Wednesday, his representative said.
[Mikhail] Prokhorov will be making a formal offer to buy the Kommersant publishing house from Alisher Usmanov, Prokhorov’s spokeswoman Olga Stukalova told The Associated Press. Usmanov, however, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying he doesn’t have any plans to sell it.
Prokhorov's chances: low, because oligarchs aren't liked

Also, UK Daily Mail blogger Alexander Boot, in Mikhail Prokhorov, the President that will never be, writes:
He has taken what he calls 'the most serious decision' of his life: to stand for President. In his seriousness stakes, this must then rank higher than the decision Misha took last June, when he got out of his Norilsk Nickel (the world's largest producer of that metal) and entered politics to form the Right Cause party. All sorts of cynics, mostly in Russia, attributed ulterior motives to Misha’s bold move, but some benign explanation based on boredom could be just as credible. What do you give a man who has everything? A parliamentary party.

Alas, Misha’s summer romance with politics didn’t work out. Some attributed the failure to his getting cold feet at the time: as Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Gusinsky et al could attest to, Putin doesn’t like oligarchs who present a political challenge. That explanation misses the main point: Putin may not like politicised oligarchs, but Misha's campaign faltered because the Russians in general don’t like oligarchs, full stop. They know that those billionaires aren't businessmen in our sense of the word. They were, in the Russian phrase, 'appointed oligarchs' when the ruling KGB camarilla decided to go semi-legit internationally. Misha, for example, came out of nowhere in 1993 to become a billionaire overnight by purchasing Norilsk Nickel, whose market value was stratospheric. How did he get the money? Saved it up by taking bag lunches?
In other words, Prokhorov, with laudatory coverage in 60 Minutes and a cover story in the New York Times Magazine, is more popular in the United States (where he's generally identified as the Nets' owner rather than an oligarch-who-got-rich-through-questionable-means) than at home.

Time for worry?

Boot warns:
This is the traditional vector of Russian life: if in the West rich people often gravitate towards politics, in Russia it’s politics, or rather proximity to the throne, that makes people rich. If they wish then to reverse the vector and enter politics themselves, they’d better watch their step.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports:
Sergei Markov, a former United Russia lawmaker who heads the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, is among the analysts who have characterized Prokhorov’s candidacy as a ploy to benefit Putin by legitimizing the March vote through the appearance of genuine competition.

“There are two possibilities here, either it’s something agreed with Putin to bolster the legitimacy of the presidential elections after the recent protests or Prokhorov could be jumping on the bandwagon of the protests,” Markov said Dec. 12. “Prokhorov is a glamorous oligarch and he’s got plenty of money to spend on promoting himself.”

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