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Analysis & Opinion
30.09.11 The Plight Of An Oligarch
By Pavel Koshkin

The Kremlin’s decision to oust Russian oligarch and the former leader of the Right Cause party Mikhail Prokhorov from the Presidential Modernization Commission indicates that the Russian authorities still have a firm grip on businessmen and are willing to exact revenge for any hint of political independence on their part. Prokhorov’s persistent attempts to follow his own way in politics and his public criticism of Vladimir Surkov have not only cost him positions in the Right Cause and the modernization commission, but have also created hurdles for some of his other projects as well.

It remains unclear whether Prokhorov’s harsh rhetoric toward the authorities threatens his freedom, as was the case with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another Russian oligarch who was imprisoned due to political friction with the Kremlin. However, experts rule out the possibility that the Khodorkovsky scenario will repeat itself because they don’t see a political future for Prokhorov and don’t place him in the company of vocal anti-Kremlin campaigners.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s decision last week to dismiss Prokhorov from the modernization commission stemmed from the oligarch’s criticism of the commission’s head, Vladislav Surkov. During the Right Cause Party convention at the Russian Academy of Sciences, when Prokhorov was dismissed from the leading post, he described the Right Cause as a “falsified” Kremlin project which has “discredited itself,” and called on his supporters to leave the party and create a new one. He promised to do his utmost to achieve Surkov’s resignation and described him as “a puppeteer who privatized the political system” at the convention. Russia will see real politics only when Surkov gets dismissed from the Kremlin, he added.

“It would have been quite strange if Prokhorov’s had remained on the commission after his criticism of the Kremlin,” said Georgy Chizhov, vice president of the Center for Political Technologies. After all, it’s important for Surkov to show that he has the power and the will to tell Prokhorov where to stop, Chizhov added. Prokhorov later wrote in his blog that his ousting from the commission clarified the situation and proved that everything in Russia is politically motivated. “When I became a member of the commission, I was sure that its activity would be related only to the development of new technologies and innovations, and it would be out of the reach of politics,” he wrote.

Some have posited that Prokhorov’s intentions to create a new party and remain in politics will meet with the same fate as Khodorkovsky’s. But experts say Prokhorov is unlikely to compromise his freedom and economic achievements for the sake of political ambitions. “Prokhorov criticized the Kremlin’s administration because he took personal offense, and that’s it,” Korgunyuk said. Likewise, Chizhov was also skeptical that Prokhorov is the next Khodorkovsky, because he doesn’t look like an oppositionist. “There is no possibility for him to create a new party,” he said. “After Putin’s nomination for presidency, the situation with party registration will only be aggravated.”

Prokhorov’s blog also testifies to the fact that he has little intention to oppose the Russian authorities and will probably remain loyal to the government. He said that he hasn’t changed his mind on the modernization commission, and described it as a very effective agency that has the potential to significantly modernize the country.

Nevertheless, the conflict between Prokhorov and the Kremlin proves that any attempts to follow an independent political course are dangerous not only for one’s political career, but also for business. After the conflict with Surkov, some of Prokhorov’s economic initiatives ran into trouble. For example, his Yo-Mobil joint venture, which produces new Russian hybrid vehicles based on a modernized engine burning gasoline and natural gas, is unable to finish building a road to a factory in the Maryono industrial park in St. Petersburg due to restrictions imposed by Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Agency. Korgunyuk ascribed this to Prokhorov’s confrontation with the Kremlin and predicted more difficulties for the oligarch. “His attempts to follow his own political course and his criticism are obstructing his business,” he said. “And it looks like he hasn’t already understood that it will cost him more then the loss of a position on the Modernization Commission. I guess he will lose something else.”
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