Role Player: Prokhorov Candidacy a Ploy To Aid Putin?

Andrei Dunayev, head of Right Cause, stated:

I would sincerely like to believe that he came to this decision on his own. If we can be sure about this, we will definitely support him.

Indeed, however, we cannot be sure. And even if it were Prokhorov’s own decision, we cannot be sure of his motivations -- or rather, we can be sure that he is motivated only by his own personal gain. Boris Nemtsov, perhaps the most credible opposition figure in Russia these days (though surely not the most popular), was far more blunt than Dunayev. He stated:

He is lying to you! Oligarchs who do not make deals with Putin go to jail in Russia. The crucial difference between Prokhorov and us, the independent opposition, is that we want to relieve Russia from Putin’s regime. Prokhorov wants to improve his career. Prokhorov’s role in the game would be to get some of the liberal electorate off the streets. But he is walking on thin ice. Those who call Putin a thief will immediately recognize Prokhorov’s decision as a betrayal.

He added:

Prokhorov's task is to accumulate the protest votes and help Putin get elected.

Sergei Markov, one of the Kremlin's key political operatives, agreed. He stated:

This will only work in Putin's favor. His chances of becoming president are zero. More than anything else, the citizens of Russia hate the oligarchs, who robbed the country blind in the 1990s, and Mikhail Prokhorov is the quintessential oligarch.

So the only way Prokhorov’s announcement could be significant for Russia would be if Russia’s intelligentsia reacts to it the same way they did to the shameless rigging of the recent parliamentary elections -- by feeling deeply insulted. If that happens, maybe the recent spate of street demonstrations in Moscow, feeble and disorganized but the most energetic Russia has seen since the fall of the USSR, will grow and spread. Maybe the people of Russia will identify a real candidate, like Nemtsov, and demand that he appear on the ballot. The Kremlin wouldn’t allow that, but maybe the denial would cause even greater public furor. That might force Putin to appoint a prime minister who isn’t a flunkie, someone who would actually seek to push back the worst of Putin’s anti-democratic excesses.

It’s not much to hope for, but in Putinland it may be the best Russia can do.