New drama in Russian poll mix
Moscow - Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov's decision to stand against Vladimir Putin in presidential elections could be part of a Kremlin plan rather than a genuine challenge to the authorities, the press said on Tuesday.
Prokhorov announced on Monday he would be a candidate in the March presidential elections, adding new drama to the Russian political scene after mass opposition protests shook the authorities at the weekend.
But several newspapers cast suspicion on his announcement, noting that Prokhorov maintains good ties with the elite and saying the Kremlin could want his candidacy to harmlessly soak up any protest votes against Putin.
Candidacy ‘not unexpected’
The Vedomosti daily quoted a Kremlin source as saying that Prokhorov's candidacy was not unexpected for Putin as the tycoon had kept contact with the Russian strongman and his inner circle.
The source described Prokhorov's move as a "tactical decision" aimed at reducing tensions in society after the protests of the last week accusing the authorities of rigging this month's parliamentary elections.
"The authorities are trying to weaken the protest mood in society, experts believe," the newspaper added.
Online newspaper Gazeta.ru noted that Prokhorov's announcement had come just weeks after he had publicly and apparently acrimoniously fallen out with the Kremlin over a botched plan to lead a pro-business political party.
Putin to face a rockier ride
"Experts believe either Prokhorov has been put forward by the Kremlin for the sake of the angry protestors or his candidacy will not be registered," it added.
The Kommersant daily said: "Some are happy that a candidate for the protest vote has appeared but others are sure that this is a Kremlin plan."
Prokhorov's candidacy also made the front page of the pro-Kremlin mass circulation tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, an unusual honour for any challenger to Putin. "The billionaire goes into politics," it said.
Analysts believe Putin in any case faces a far rockier ride to his third term as president after the protests against the parliamentary election results gave Russia's sidelined opposition new confidence.
"Russia's presidential race, it seems, is to stop being boring," commented the liberal Nezavismaya Gazeta.