Nets owner challenges Putin for presidency

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Kudrin, 51, lacks Prokhorov’s flash, but as finance minister under both Putin and Medvedev, he earned wide respect for his economic acumen. Kudrin was widely credited with softening the blow of the 2008-09 global downturn in Russia with his conservative fiscal policies.

During Putin’s presidency, Kudrin set up a rainy day fund of revenue from Russia’s oil exports. The idea angered many in the government who sought higher spending, but it ultimately proved to be an invaluable cushion.

In an interview with the business newspaper Vedomosti published Monday, Kudrin said the country needed a new liberal party and “I am to assist” in creating it.

Kudrin was fired in September for saying that he would not serve if Medvedev agreed to step aside, become prime minister and allow the 59-year-old Putin to run for another term. The decision by Medvedev and Putin to effectively swap positions was seen by critics as cynical and antidemocratic, so Kudrin’s dismissal could give him a principled aura.

Prokhorov said he hopes to win the support of Russia’s growing middle class, which formed the core of Saturday’s demonstrations. However, he said he agrees with only some of the anti-Putin and anti-government slogans shouted at rallies. He also did not say whether he plans to attend a follow-up protest in Moscow later this month.

He is one of several candidates who have said they will oppose Putin in the presidential election, including Communist chief Gennady Zyuganov, who has finished second in past presidential elections.

Prokhorov’s presidential bid follows his botched performance in the parliamentary race when he formed a liberal party under tacit support of the Kremlin, then abandoned the project under what he called Kremlin pressure.

He has personally blamed Vladislav Surkov, a presidential deputy chief of staff, for staging a mutiny within that party’s ranks. “I can solve that problem by becoming his boss,” Prokhorov said, referring to Surkov’s possible opposition to his candidacy.

Prokhorov now faces the immediate challenge of collecting the 2 million signatures required to qualify for the race. A number of opposition candidates and parties in the past could not even run for parliament because their applications were turned down for technical reasons.

Prokhorov also is not the first of Russian’s superrich to have ambitious political goals. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, has been in prison since 2003 on tax evasion and embezzlement charges that are widely seen as a punishment for having challenged Putin’s power.

The demonstrations in Moscow and other cities were “a very positive sign for all those who support the democratic process,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. “Both the Russian government and civil society leaders seem to be looking for a dialogue.”

The influential Russian Orthodox Church has also weighed in on the brewing controversy over the elections.

“Very serious questions have been raised, however uncomfortable for the authorities. We will hope that the authorities respond to them adequately and honestly,” church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin told the Interfax news agency.

Nataliya Vasilyeva and Mansur Mirovalev in Moscow and Tom Canavan in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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