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Russian billionaire to challenge Putin

Jeremy Hobson Dec 13, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: Now to Russia, where Vladimir Putin has a new opponent for the March presidential elections. It’s billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who happens to own the New Jersey Nets.

Here to tell us more is Dmitry Babich who writes for Russia Profile magazine. He’s with us from Moscow. Good morning.

Dmitry Babich: Good morning.

Hobson: So who is this guy Prokhorov, and where did he get all his money?

Babich: He is relatively young — he’s not yet 50 — and he got extremely rich during the 90’s when he became the owner of Norilsk Nickel, the largest nickel-producing plant in Russia, located in northern Siberia.

Hobson: A nickel-producing plant?

Babich: Yes.

Hobson: And when a billionaire runs for office in this country — maybe Michael Bloomberg, who’s the mayor of New York City — it seems like they run in part on their economic record and voters look at the person and say: Oh, maybe, they certainly know how to make money for themselves, maybe they can help all of us out. Is that at play here with voters in Russia?

Babich: That’s exactly what Prokhorov tried to use also. He says that he’s campaigning for the middle-class; he said that he would allow people to make as much money as they can. He promised relaxation of labor laws so that people would be able to work longer hours if they want. In summer this year, he became the head of the liberal party called the Right Cause. It’s called the “party of the millionaires.”

Hobson: So are the Putin people worried about him?

Babich: I’m not sure they are too worried, because actually if he runs, and Putin beats them all, then Putin can say that in fact, he won over all the prevailing ideologies in Russia because at the elections he’s going to face a communist, a nationalist — and now also a liberal billionaire.

Hobson: Dmitry Babich is with Russia Profile magazine. Thank you so much for joining us.

Babich: Thank you.

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