Archive for the 'Opposition' Category

28
Oct
11

Former tennis star Marat Safin will run for the Duma

Former world number one and double grand slam title winner Marat Safin is the latest Russian tennis player to confirm he intends to run for his country’s parliament.

Safin, the 2000 US Open winner and 2005 Australian Open champion, said he was serious about his political ambitions.

“I am running for Federal Parliament in Russia,” Safin told the ATP Champions Tour website.

“The elections are on December 4th so I will find out soon. It’s a new challenge. I think I am an intelligent guy and I have a lot to bring and a lot of ideas about things and what to do. I am very committed to it.”

Safin added: “I could be the best looking guy in the Duma, but that’s only because all the other guys are over 60.”

The 31-year-old Safin is the second Russian tennis star to target a seat in the Duma following 2007 US Open women’s semi-finalist Anna Chakvetadze announcement in September that she was to stand for the Right Cause party.

The 24-year-old, formerly ranked in the top five in the world, has not played since Wimbledon in June because of poor health.

Chakvetadze said she wanted to “try something new” and focus on women’s rights and children’s sports.

“I joined the Right Cause Party because it’s a young party,” she said.

“All of its members are young people, who have many fresh ideas. I believe I also can bring some fresh ideas into this project.

“I’d like to be involved in deciding the questions concerning the sports sphere in case we manage to enter the State Duma.”

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16
Aug
11

Russia: Vladimir Putin launches his presidential campaign

In what could be seen as the start of a presidential campaign, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reflected Friday on decisions he made that he said could have cost him his political career – and declared that the risk was always justified.

He specifically referred to his response to the 1999 rebel attacks on Dagestan led by the notorious Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.

Militants headed by Basayev and Saudi-born Ibn Al-Khattab attacked Dagestan in August-September 1999. Hundreds of people were killed in the subsequent fighting, a precursor to the second Chechen war.

“Unless I took resolute and tough action, the country would have fallen apart,” he said during a working visit to one of Russia’s biggest steel makers, the Magnitogorsk Steel Plant.

“I had to make a decision. I thought: That’s it, my career is over.”

Putin said he acted in accordance with the country’s national interests, with no consideration of political expediency.

Asked what he considered his most significant achievement in the past decade, Putin said a good deal had been done for the country but Russia had still a long way to go, specifically reduce poverty and ensure economic growth.

“New tools, new people and new ideas are needed, deep modernization and innovation are needed to accelerate economic and social growth and strengthen the political foundations of our society,” Putin said.

Asked what quality was most important in a president, Putin said, “integrity – integrity in everything,” adding that a person who “can’t keep his word must not even be allowed to head any team, let alone the country.”

The prime minister also stressed the importance of professionalism and diplomacy.

Putin’s comments come as analysts and ordinary Russians speculate who will run in next year’s presidential poll.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin have made clear that one of them – and only one of them – will run in the presidential elections on March 11, 2012, but it is anyone’s guess as to which one.

03
Aug
11

Will Prokhorov really enter Russian politics?

What is doing Mikhail Prokhorov? The Russian tycoon who recently announced his intention to start a political career is playing a confusing game. Will he really defy Prime minister Vladimir Putin or is it just a tactical and symbolic move?

Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, who leads a small party praised by President Dmitry Medvedev, ridiculed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s new political movement on Tuesday and said he would one day like the premier’s job.

Prokhorov, who made a fortune by gaining control of the world’s biggest palladium producer after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, last month took charge of a party which has called for Medvedev to run for re-election in the 2012 presidential election.

Putin and Medvedev have both repeatedly refused to say which of them will run in the March presidential election, though Putin created a new movement in May to widen the support of his ruling party ahead of a December parliamentary election.

The 46-year-old owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball club told the Kommersant newspaper that he agreed with Putin on some issues but not others, citing the centralized political system crafted by Putin during his 2000-2008 presidency.

The billionaire also mocked the swift rise in membership of Putin’s movement, the All-Russian People’s Front.

“You know, in my opinion, it is really laughable when 38 million agricultural workers join the Front in a single day,” Prokhorov told the paper, referring to a decision last month by Russia’s Agrarian Movement to join Putin’s movement.

While steering clear of direct criticism of Putin, he said the United Russia party which Putin leads was an ineffective monopoly. He said he hoped one day to be prime minister.

“Do you think I entered politics just to get into the Duma and then to relax and have a smoke?” said Prokhorov, adding that his free-market Right Cause party aimed to get 15 percent in the elections to the lower house of parliament, known as the Duma.

When asked why he wanted to become prime minister, the job Putin took in May 2008 when he stepped down as president after steering Medvedev in to the Kremlin, Prokhorov said:

“Because this job is clearer to me: it is connected with the things I have had to deal with in business. I have dealt with all sectors of the economy,” Prokhorov said.

OLIGARCH POLITICIAN

Prokhorov, the most influential Russian billionaire to enter public politics since the 2003 arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, said he did not know what Putin would think of his ambition.

“I don’t know. I think it would be better if you asked him,” said Prokhorov, who is ranked by Finans magazine as Russia’s second richest man with a fortune of $22.7 billion, behind steel magnate Vladimir Lisin with $28.3 billion.

Such a response is unusually blunt given the power of Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, who made clear during his presidency his view that the deeply unpopular oligarchs should stay out of politics.

Khodorkovsky’s business empire was carved up and sold after he fell foul of the Kremlin under Putin. He is still in jail.

But few investors and diplomats believe such a powerful tycoon as Prokhorov would have entered politics without the direct approval — or even a direct order — from Medvedev’s Kremlin.

His outspoken entry into politics may even help create the perception of competition in the election year while garnering support from notoriously cynical urban professional voters.

Right Cause called in November 2010 — before Prokhorov’s election as leader — for Medvedev to run for a second term in the 2012 election and last month the Kremlin chief praised Prokhorov, saying many of his ideas were similar to his own.

A whiz-kid of Russian finance who is sometimes called Moscow’s most eligible bachelor, he earned a fortune by selling a one-quarter stake in mining behemoth Norilsk Nickel just before the 2008 global crisis hammered Russia’s economy.

He has a 17 percent stake in RUSAL, the world’s top aluminum producer, and a 30 percent stake in Russia’s top gold producer, Polyus Gold.

Prokhorov quipped that with his wealth, he could even top the campaign financing for Putin’s party: “If not for restrictions on party funding, I would beat United Russia with one single payment.”

24
Jul
11

Russian blogger gets political asylum in Estonia

Russian musician and blogger Savva Terentyev, convicted in 2008 of inciting hatred against police, was granted political asylum by Estonian immigration authorities on July 11.

The decision by the Police and Border Guard will allow Terentyev, his wife and his son, who have been living in Estonia since January, to remain in the country for three years.

In July 2008, a court in Terentyev’s native Syktyvkar in Russia’s Komi district found him guilty of “inciting enmity and publicly humiliating representatives of a social group,” and sentenced him to a one-year suspended jail sentence.

The year prior, then 21-year-old Terentyev posted a comment on an acquaintance’s Live Journal blog in response to a report on the blog of a police raid on a local opposition newspaper. Terentyev was highly critical of the police, calling for daily ceremonies in the center of every Russian city where one dishonest cop would be burned.

The case against him began six months later.

Terentyev’s conviction sent shockwaves through the Russian internet community as it was the country’s first criminal case based on a blog comment. The case has also been cited by international rights groups such as Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, whose reports Terentyev submitted along with his application for asylum, according to the BBC’s Russian service.

In an interview with the BBC, Terentyev said he has had difficulty finding work since his conviction due to the bad reputation he received, and has no plans to go back to Russia in the future. “All this ended with my receiving the right to live in Europe and now I can freely travel in the territory of the CIS as well as the EU,” he said.

Though he still believes he did not break the law in making his comments, Terentyev expressed regrets for making them. “I didn’t recognize, and I still do not recognize, that it was a violation of the law,” he said. “But now I wouldn’t write that, simply because I have a different mood than I had four years ago. I already admitted in court that it was pure stupidity. But for a personal correspondence between two young people it was perfectly normal.”

17
Jun
11

Mikhail Prokhorov enters politics… and gets a tax investigation

Was it a safe choice for russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to enter politics? The giant womanizer is being sued by a Siberian region for tens of millions of dollars in allegedly unpaid taxes, just after he announced he was entering politics, reports said on Saturday.

The Lenosibirsk district of the Krasnoyarsk region of central Siberia is seeking two billion rubles (70 million dollars) from billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, the RIA Novosti news agency and Kommersant daily reported.

The move comes just a month after Prokhorov, head of the Onexim investment holding with a reported fortune of $18 billion, unexpectedly announced he was going into politics and planned to lead the Right Cause Party.

Prokhorov is registered in the tiny Siberian village of Eruda and pays his taxes there.

The local branch of the tax service believes Prokhorov failed to pay taxes due to the Russian state on a transaction in Britain — in south Wales — in 2008, the deputy head of the regional anti-monopoly service Oleg Kharchenko was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying.

“As the Lenosibirsk tax inspectorate lacks an experienced specialist in the problems of south Welsh tax law, they asked the anti-monopoly service for help,” he was quoted as saying.

A source in the regional tax inspectorate told RIA Novosti that the issue had already gone to court.

Prokhorov was quoted on the sidelines of the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum as acknowledging the dispute but expressing confidence that he would win in court.

The entry of Prokhorov into politics sent a ripple of excitement through Russia’s political scene, though cynics pointed out that neither the billionaire nor his party have so far sharply criticised the Kremlin.

Kommersant underlined the coincidence of the timing of the case with the headline: “Prokhorov has now got into real politics.”

Russia’s former richest man Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003 on suspicion of tax evasion, at a time when he was financing opposition parties. He was convicted twice and is not due for release until 2016.

24
May
11

Many questions about Putin’s proposal for “unified civil front”

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has observers scratching their heads over his dramatic appeal to build a “unified civil front” of political parties and social groups to confront an unspecified national dilemma.

The idea sounds baffling since Russia, despite its various issues, does not appear to face a looming crisis that would justify putting aside political differences for the common good. Some experts scoff that the unmentioned emergency is Mr. Putin’s own poll numbers.

Putin, who is widely suspected to be eyeing a return to the presidency, saw his numbers plunge in recent polls and rating for the party he leads, United Russia, also dropped. RELATED: Putin’s marquee moments.

But a few critics warn darkly that Putin may be seeking to reshape Russian political culture into one of forced social unity similar to the former Soviet system, in which all of civil society – including media, trade unions, the church, youth, women’s groups, even sports clubs – were held in captive orbits around the all-powerful ruling party.

“I propose the creation of something that in practical politics is called a unified civil front, an organization to unify the efforts of various political forces ahead of major events of political character,” Putin told a conference of United Russia in the central Russian city of Volgograd last Friday.

‘Fresh ideas, fresh proposals’

The front should recruit into its ranks all organizations and people “who are united by the idea to strengthen our country and by the wish to search for the most optimal ways of solving current problems,” he added. Putin spent much of the long weekend (Monday was Victory Day, a major holiday in Russia) meeting with business and social leaders to test the idea, which would include opening up as much as a third of United Russia’s candidate lists to nonparty members affiliated with the new front.

“United Russia needs an inflow of fresh ideas, fresh proposals, and fresh faces,” he told journalists. Sign up for our daily World Editor’s Picks newsletter. Our best stories, in your inbox. United Russia, the state-backed political behemoth whose membership is packed with officials, has given Putin near undisputed control over most legislatures in Russia for nearly a decade, including a two-thirds majority in the Duma.

But lately its public approval rating has slumped dramatically. The party, which won 67 percent in 2007 Duma elections, was supported by just 43 percent of Russians, according to an April survey by the independent Public Opinion Fund (FOM).

“Putin [who leads United Russia] aims to secure his own position in case of a poor showing by the party in the coming Duma elections,” says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “The idea is to add some fresh faces, so that the candidate list doesn’t just consist of the same old dull bureaucrats and corrupt officials. It’s just an electoral scheme.”

17
May
11

Politics: what is Prokhorov’s game plan?

Is Mikhail Prokhorov defying Vladim Putin’s authority by entering politics? Since Khodorkovsky’s indictment something was clear in Russia: oligarchs make business and Putin makes politics… A new deal in Russian balance of powers?

Mr Prokhorov wants to lead the Pravoye Dyelo party, or Right Cause.

He owns much of Russia’s gold and nickel production, with other interests as diverse as nanotechnology, a hybrid car and the New Jersey Nets basketball club.

The last oligarch to turn politician, Mikhail Khodorkovksy, ended up in prison.

Mr Prokhorov made his money in the chaotic years of Russian privatisation during the 1990s.

His fortune is reportedly worth $22.7bn (£14bn), which puts him among the top three Russian billionaires.

Now he is diversifying beyond business.

Prostitutes allegation

The Right Cause party he has offered to lead strongly supports President Dmitry Medvedev, at a time when there’s mounting speculation that Vladimir Putin wants a return to the presidency.

It was founded just two years ago as a pro-business party promoting free-market reforms, the rule of law and an end to what it calls the “arbitrary rule of corrupt officialdom”.

Mr Prokhorov’s declared aims would be to lead Right Cause to second place in parliamentary elections coming up in December, behind the United Russia party, whose chairman is Vladimir Putin.

United Russia is expected to win the parliamentary elections comfortably, but they are widely seen as a dress rehearsal for the presidential election in March.

Both Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are potential contenders for the presidency next time around.

If Mr Prokhorov succeeds in taking over as leader of Right Cause, it will be the first time a Russian business tycoon has taken a prominent role in politics since the imprisonment in 2003 of Mr Khodorkovsky, then head of the Yukos oil giant.

Mr Khodorkovsky’s supporters have always insisted this was punishment for daring to oppose Mr Putin.

Based on his statement today, Mikhail Prokhorov appears to be taking care to avoid posturing as a defiant opponent of the Kremlin.

Right Cause has so far struggled to attract heavyweight leaders in its ranks. Liberals have kept their distance from it, seeing it as too close to the government.

Mr Prokhorov’s business empire is based on the Onexim Group, which has wide variety of interests, with gold and nickel at their core.

In January 2007, he was arrested on suspicion of arranging prostitutes for guests at a party he hosted in the French Alpine resort of Courchevel.

The case was later dismissed, and Mr Prokhorov was cleared