“I will build my manifesto on the total absence of populism. I will be saying only what I consider necessary,” he said Monday at a news conference. “I am perfectly aware that some ideas are certain not to win a majority, but I think it is my civic duty to deliver information about what is going on in the world.”
Putin’s political aides have long suggested that United Russia needs a tame liberal opposition. They persuaded Prokhorov to try to build one in June but turned against him in September. Prokhorov denounced the Kremlin, but his legitimacy as an opposition leader is still questioned.
Boris Nemtsov, a deputy prime minister in the 1990s and a politician who strikes many voters as a throwback to a long-gone and unlamented era, immediately slammed Prokhorov. The criticism matters because Nemtsov’s political movement, Solidarity, is one of the chief sponsors of the protests.
Nemtsov said Prokhorov and Putin were in cahoots, playing “an obscene game,” according to the Interfax news agency.
“It is absolutely impossible to imagine that that billionaire didn’t have the go-ahead from Putin for putting himself forward as a candidate for the presidential election,” Nemtsov said.
That was nastier than anything Putin’s backers were saying Monday. United Russia staged a rally in Manezh Square, bringing in a few thousand young supporters by bus from as far away as Kaluga and Bryansk. The mood was festive and friendly, which was a change from the hostility that prevailed at a similar rally last Tuesday.
“We work with drug addicts, and we really need the support of the authorities,” said Marina Sadovskaya, 27, who volunteers at a drug rehabilitation center. “Now the authorities need our support.”
It was good to see so many young people backing United Russia, she said. But, she added, it was sad that they had come only because their schools and clubs had arranged to bus them in: “We just wish they’d do it of their own free will.”
Few options in opposition
The Communist Party finished a strong second in the elections, and its backers have suggested that the opposition rally around its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, in the presidential race.
The Communists have the advantage of a strong and thorough network throughout the country. Their disadvantage is Zyuganov, a former Soviet apparatchik who is notably colorless. Zyuganov — like the flamboyant Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party — shows every sign of having accepted his role as leader of a permanent but comfortable minority. Putin allows them to take part in politics, as long as they don’t cause any trouble.
Navalny, the crusading anti-corruption blogger, declined to become a candidate earlier this year. At the moment, he is serving a 15-day sentence after getting arrested on the first day of post-election protests. His arrest made him a hero to millions. When he gets out, he will be at the forefront of the opposition, but he may be more effective, as he himself has suggested, staying out of politics.
Prokhorov, meanwhile, could draw support from Russians who are well off and haven’t traditionally paid much attention to politics but are seething at the corruption and arrogance in government, suggested Matthew Rojansky of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“Prokhorov, simply put, is a creature of 2000’s Russia — of the Putin era,” Rojansky wrote in an e-mail. “He may thus be the best equipped to lead a campaign to bring it to an end.”