Andrew Osborn








Vladimir Putin's time as leader has passed, says Mikhail Prokhorov

The Daily Telegraph, 2nd February 2012 08:06

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Vladimir Putin's time as leader has passed, according to Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia's third richest man, who is running for president next month.

The oligarch, with a fortune estimated at £11.5 billion, said he would not offer Mr Putin a role in his administration if elected, saying he believed the veteran Russian leader, who is currently prime minister, should step down.

"I want to bring in new faces," the metals tycoon said in Moscow on Wednesday.

"Vladimir Putin has been in power for 12 years and has done a lot of work. But that is enough, it is time for others to have a chance."

The 46-year-old businessman is one of five men vying to win the Russian presidency in an election on March 4 but has been forced to repeatedly deny allegations he is a Kremlin puppet on a mission to give the vote a semblance of competition.

He is the only new face to enter the carefully stage-managed world of Russian politics in recent years however, and says he is in politics for the long-haul.

By contrast, three of the other presidential contenders have provided only token or at best feeble opposition to the Kremlin for years.

Polls show that 59-year-old Mr Putin, who remains popular in the provinces, will easily win the presidency next month regardless even though he may be forced into a run-off.

Keen to play down the widely-held impression that his victory is a foregone conclusion, Mr Putin conceded on Wednesday that he may be forced into a second round run-off if he fails to secure less than 50 per cent of the vote outright.

"A run-off would unavoidably be linked to the continuation of a struggle and the destabilisation of the political situation," he said.

"I am ready for that, to work in the second round, if need be."

President from 2000-2008 and prime minister for the last four years, he is facing an unprecedented challenge to his dominance after tens of thousands of people took to the streets in recent months to protest against an allegedly rigged parliamentary election in December.

The protests were the largest of their kind since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and appear to have taken the guardians of the Kremlin's peculiar brand of 'managed democracy' by surprise.

But the protesters' central demand for a fresh parliamentary election has been rejected out of hand by the Kremlin, the movement so far lacks a clear leader, and there is growing unease in its own ranks about joining forces with the far left and far right. Opposition activists pulled off a cheeky stunt on Wednesday, briefly erecting a giant banner on a rooftop opposite the Kremlin urging Mr Putin to leave politics. The opposition is hoping to stage what will be its third big protest in Moscow on Saturday. But with the mercury hovering around -6F (-21C) and with far fewer promised attendees than previous events, its chances of maintaining or even advancing the anti-Kremlin opposition movement's considerable momentum appear uncertain.