Russian presidential candidates, part 1

For Russians there is an election coming in March 2012 and likely it will be one of the most important for the Russian people in recent history. In this series we’ll take a look at the major candidates.

First, the USA and other western nations should remind themselves that they are not Russian voters. The election of a Russian president should be conducted without outside influence and carried out to the satisfaction of the Russia people themselves.

Those who might argue that another country has an interest in the outcome of an election should be reminded that while all nations have an interest in the outcome of an election in another country, such does not the give the right to influence those proceedings. Do we wish to have Russia monitors present at a USA election? Does Russia have the right to monitor elections in the UK or Canada or the Netherlands? The role of other nations should extend no further than to collectively lend moral support to independent Russian monitors who are doing the work in their own country.

Михаил Прохоров: Surprisingly to most Russians, Mikhail Prokhorov isn’t known for anything by the average American. Oh, basketball fans and politicians know him as the New Jersey Nets team owner and a fewer number of Americans know that he was a Russian Duma candidate (lost the election) but other than that, he is a “no name” in American life.

Russians however know him from CSKA basketball and as a Russian billionaire, with a fortune around $18 billion according to Forbes.

Russian businessman, owner of the New Jersey Nets, will run for president.

Young and brash at 46 years of age, the billionaire does generate an instant reaction from most Russians just at the mention of his name. To some he is a rich oligarch and international businessman. To others he is a Kremlin stooge, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, and the ousted leader of the “A Just Russia” political party. Yet, many see him as a truly independent minded political rival to Putin, a true alternative to politics as usual in the Russian capital.

We simply don’t know and will let the Russian people decide.

You may be surprised to learn that his fortune began in clothing. His father was a member of the State Committee on Sports and Mikhail (Michael, or “Misha” to friends) got to sample some of the goods his father brought home from the West. Everything from Jeans to Watches was sampled and he quickly learned that Soviet manufacturing was vastly inferior to most other places in the world.

He then moved into chemicals and medals (Norilsk Nickel) and made another fortune.

Clothing business aside, these days he dresses nicely but refuses to engage the services of a tailor.

Favourite foods:
On a Twitter post he listed his favourites: Любимая еда детства — российский сыр с колбаской типа сервелат. Отварная курица нравится с младых лет, обожаю сладкое, а вообще предпочитаю русскую и грузинскую кухню. From childhood he has loved Russian cheese and sausage. Also, chicken and of course he has a sweet tooth but his favourite cuisine styles are Russian and Georgian foods.

Mikhail Prokhorov, New Jersey Nets workout facility.

Exercise activity:
As mentioned, his father was on the State Sports Committee so working out and exercise have always been a part of his life. He has a reserved spa at the Nets facility and works out daily.

Social media:
For a guy with a popular blog and Twitter account you may be surprised, that just like his friend Vladimir Putin, computers are not a big think in his life. Unlike Putin, for whom the computer age has passed behind, Prokhorov is smart enough to know their value. That he says, is why he has a secretary.

Charitable ties:
He created a foundation with his sister. He funds, she runs. He claims to know little of it’s inner workings.

Religious faith:

православная (Orthodox).

Favourite books & authors:
Prokhorov claims that he has no time to read and since his sister is a publisher, he can depend on her to tell him anything important. He also claims not to have read either of the two books that have been published about him.

How much money did he lose in the financial/ruble collapse of August 1998?
He was a bank owner then and says the bank lost over 1.5 Billion in US dollars at the time.

Some of his investors told him, Вы все украли! Не врите, будто у вас ничего нет! Верните деньги! (Don’t lie–you stole it! Repay the money!) He says that investors respected his honesty over time as he repaid his debts.

That was a time when he was afraid to eat dinner at home and surrounded himself with armed security. It was a period of great turmoil for a newly independent Russia.

Mikhail Prokhorov Nickel plant; photo by Aleksandr Ivanizhin.

What was the most unexpected thing that happened when he took over the metals manufacturer Norilsk?
He was forced to get back into the clothing business. The metal workers union was responsible for producing the protective clothing for factory workers. Corruption was rampant and the clothing was of low quality and really didn’t protect workers so he stood up against the union and opened a clothing factory for uniforms. He engaged the services of designer Оксана Ярмольникa (Oksana Yarmolhika) and their efforts were so successful that the clothing factory began to distribute protective uniforms all over Russia.

Soon the Russian Army was a buyer from his clothing factory.

His business advice for future millionaires?
Know the difference between a business and a hobby. If you come to like something too much, it is a hobby and therefore difficult to sell. Selling a company you’re created is a great way to make money and diversify holdings.

If you own a business become an expert at it. Upon purchasing the Nickel plant he studied at the local Mining Institute.

When asked if every business venture could be successful he replied that every venture has no need of being successful as long as you can learn from the mistakes.

His views on the environment:
The Soviet Union was one of the world’s worst polluters and the environmental damage done under Communism will take centuries to erase. A responsible company takes care of the environment because it is good business and good for the people who work and live in the communities that host your businesses.

The environment was a concern when Mikhail Prokhorov purchased Russia's largest Metals company.

On sex tourism:
Some claim him to be an international “playboy” but he denies the charge. His father traveled internationally and Mikhail says his father taught the principle: “В своей стране делай, сын, что хочешь, а за границей — ни-ни!” (In our own country do what you want, but in the country of someone else–do not!)

On the role of government:
Главное дело власти – обеспечивать соблюдение конституционных прав граждан. (The main role is to protect the constitutional rights of citizens.)

On the current protests:
Я против революций (I’m against revolutions). He does believe that the current protests are a legitimate expression of the people’s dissatisfaction with how government works.

Last Saturday’s protests brought out tens of thousands of protesters in the biggest opposition rally in Moscow since 1993. However Prokhorov cautions his fellow citizens, saying Революции в России всегда приводили к человеческим жертвам и снижению уровня жизни граждан. (Revolutions in Russia have always ended in loss of life and lowering of living standards.)

Prokhorov is expected to appear at the next protest rally on 24 December.

On his views of the recent elections:
He had no doubt that United Russia would not maintain a monopoly in Parliament and feels that a simple majority, rather a monopoly is good for constitutional governance.

His researchers project that about 8 percent of the protest vote was the Communist Party, about 7 percent for the Fair Russia party, about 5 percent divided between three non-parliamentary parties. He estimates that 40 percent of eligible voters stayed away from the polls because there was no viable alternative candidate.

He believes that breaking United Russia’s monopoly on parliament gives an excellent chance for democracy to thrive in Russia’s future. The situation now means that the Kremlin will have to work hard negotiate with other parties and will be forced to listen to the people.

Prokhorov says that if changes are not made then the system will collapse within the next five years. He is optimistic though and says there is a great need for new political ideas, for new faces and new ideas through the creation of new parties and movements.

Mikhail Prokhorov in Moscow.

What would he propose to fix the current crisis:
1. Во всех крупных и средних городах выделить удобные для граждан места для свободного выражения мнений (аналог Гайд-парка в Лондоне, в Москве, например, Парк им. Горького). Пусть интернет выйдет на улицу, и у власти будет возможность слушать своих граждан и принимать нужные решения (а не выводить “Наших”, провоцируя противостояние в обществе, и не заниматься ремонтом трубопровода именно там, где люди хотят собраться).

Translation: Provide convenient places for citizens to meet and express their views in all medium to large size cities. Do not attempt to restrict the internet and thereby the government to listen to its citizens. Do not allow TV stations to limit coverage to showing groups like “Nashi” confronting other legitimate groups and do not pretend to construct pipelines where a public meeting has been scheduled.

2. Партия власти нуждается в серьезном реформировании, и сделать это должен человек, который вел эту партию на выборы. Медведев, как лидер списка, мог бы эффективно руководить Думой, сделав ее “местом для дискуссий” и центром законодательной инициативы.

Translation: The ruling party is in need of serious reform, and the person most qualified to do is the man who led the party in the elections. Dmitry Medvedev, as the leader, could effectively lead the Duma, making it “a place for debate” and the center of legislative initiative.

3. В этом случае Путин по Конституции становится и.о. Президента и будет обладать всеми необходимыми полномочиями (что соответствует реальному политическому рейтингу) для проведения честных президентских выборов, которые должны радикально отличаться упрощенным доступом к возможности стать кандидатом в Президенты (для граждан снизить объем подписей в 10 раз, дать возможность выдвигать кандидатов не только парламентским партиям, но и общественным организациям и блокам). Это откроет мощный политический и социальный лифт, ощущение справедливости и правильности действий власти, даст победившему кандидату политический ресурс на проведение реформ и формирование нового правительства доверия.

Translation: (With an effective Duma) Officials would be forced to act under the Constitution and there would be a fair presidential election, for which there must be radical changes and simplifications so that any citizen could have the opportunity to become a presidential candidate. Reduce the amount of signatures from 2 million, and don’t restrict candidates to belong to parties which have seats in parliament. This will open up a powerful political way for participation and give a sense of fairness to elections, giving the winning candidate the political resources to carry out reforms and forming a new government.

4. После президентских выборов провести реформу политической системы (наши предложения были подробно изложены в Манифесте “Правого дела” образца до 14.09.11) и в случае, если спокойствие и позитив в стране не восстановлены, провести новые выборы в Думу. И обществу, и власти предстоит пройти большой путь навстречу друг другу. Но другого пути я не вижу и своей стране не желаю…

Translation: After the presidential elections and reform of the political system, if calm has not been restored then hold new Duma elections.

Upon making his presidential bid announcement some observers are speculating his candidacy to be a ruse, meant to siphon off ill will by Russia’s middle class and allow Vladimir Putin to return to the presidency. In the initial press conference Prokhorov was vague in criticisms of his friend Vladimir Putin and the United Russia party.

He has until Thursday to file paperwork a presidential candidate with the Central Elections Commission. Then he will need to collect 2 million signatures in order to appear on the ballot.

He was recently ousted from the political party Right Cause, which placed last with just 0.6 percent of the nationwide vote in the State Duma elections on 4 December.

Is he afraid to oppose Vladimir Putin?
Friends warn that he could be following in the footsteps of billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was imprisoned in 2003 for most acknowledge as Putin’s punishment for his political ambitions. He says that he is not afraid, yet admitted that “there’s no fence against ill fortune.

Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, a long time ally of Prime Minister Putin but fired by President Medvedev, is said to be working with Prokhorov to form a new political party.

Quote from Mikhail Prokhorov on 27 September, earlier this year:
I think we are on the verge of very important – perhaps tectonic – shifts within the power elites. This will inevitably be accompanied by the release of the new ideologies, new concepts of government and new people – the holders of the ideologies and concepts. They will not fit into the usual system of liberals versus conservatives, left against the right, etc. I think we are facing very significant events.

Mendeleyev notes:

In announcing that he would run for president in March, Prokhorov declared himself a “champion of the middle class” and promised that he was already working to create a grassroots political party to counter “populist tricks” and promote open dialogue between Russian citizens and the government.

Candidate Prokhorov has certainly wasted no time in getting a web strategy online. His website features a large red checkmark with the words “Mikhail Prokhorov–our President!”

Site address: