The risky game of an ex-Kremlin favourite
Mikhail Prokhorov, ex-leader of Russia’s liberal Right Cause, is in fighting mood. The billionaire just launched an unprecedented attack at the country’s leadership, after all but two of his 75 party delegates voted to oust him from the party. He accuses the Kremlin of orchestrating the rebellion.
It’s a perilous move for Prokhorov. Last time an oligarch tried to take on the Kremlin, it has not ended well: Mr Khodorkovsky, the last one to speak out, now serves a 13-year sentence for tax evasion and embezzlement.
But how much a risk does Prokhorov really take? To some, he is gambling with the most precious asset any Russian businessman can have: good relations with Vladimir Putin, the omnipotent Prime Minister. But to most others, his vast fortune - he is the third richest man in the land of oligarchs, and owner of the New Jersey’s Net basketball team - will shield him from the Kremlin’s harshest retribution. They also say that Mr Putin resents sending one more oligarch to the gulag in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections.
More to the point, observers note, Prokhorov’s missile was intelligently targeted. Whilst trashing out Vlasdislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s obscure ‘chief of political operation’, he fell short of criticising the president and his prime minister. And rather than pushing protesters to the streets, he encouraged supporters to take their complaints to the governing tandem.
So Mr Prokhorov takes a calculated risk. Maybe all he stands to loose so far is his political and mediatic visibility. But the basketball tycoon is playing a dangerous game - he should keep his eye on the ball.