Russian elections: Vladimir Pozner interview with Mikhail Prokhorov

Vladimir Pozner is one of Russia’s best interviewers- well-read, well-spoken, well-travelled professional who possesses calm, wisdom and charisma, which in turn allows him to be a challenging and interesting host, showing a different side to the people he interviews.

In his weekly show ‘Pozner’ ( a talk shown on Russia’s primary TV channel, ORT ) he interviews famous people from different professional fields and lately he has been putting Russian presidential candidates in the spotlight. This week it was the turn of  the ‘youngest’ contender, Mikhail Prokhorov, who is a well-known Russian businessman ( he is equally known for his private endeavours ), to answer the questions. And it turned out to be a very frank and enlightening 50 minutes that kept me in deep thought for the following 24 hours.

Prokhorov comes across as a very driven and ambitious businessman, who knows what he is doing and where he is going, but some of the things that he said left me speechless and I don’t consider myself to be naive. To hear that a very well-off man has all kinds of bureaucratic difficulties while  gathering the required signatures in order to be registered as an official Presidential candidate is bad enough. To learn that many people ( and I am sure he has lots of powerful colleagues and friends ) are simply afraid to ‘officially’ offer him support is even worse.

Presidential elections in Russia are around the corner, they take place on the 4th of March, but one senses that things are already predetermined and Russia’s PM will win in the first round. What I don’t understand is why the most used political message that is being repeated again and again by regular people is that if the Prime Minister doesn’t win, Russia will rapidly deteriorate? Many democratic countries around the world regularly have elections, be it Presidential or Parliamentary and when the power changes-let’s say from Bush to Obama- the world doesn’t end. The new team sweeps in, there is a time for adjustment and then changes start taking place-some good, some bad, but the world continues turning.

If I am honest, I am of two minds about Prokhorov. Yes, he is an experienced businessman but then let’s take his publishing venture Snob/Сноб, as an example ( realistically I would imagine he can’t be ‘hands on’ with every business that he has a stake in, of which there are many but still…..) This monthly magazine that is also an Internet platform for blogging and opinion exchange has been loved by me since 2008, reminding me of a magazine I used to read when I was at University in Moscow, called Domovoi/Домовой( it was one of Russia’s first intellectual glossies and I miss it to this day ). Snob/Сноб has profiles of interesting people, frank discussions on various subjects, previews new literaryreleases  and organises interesting events for its subscribers. Then, towards the end of last year, a big bulk of the permanent journalistic team behind Snob left and the editor who came in is not the type of person who inspires me personally, yet seems to socialise with the right people ( including Russia’s top It-Girl Ksenia Sobchak, who is the goddaughter of our PM and without whom no ‘worthy’ presentation, restaurant opening or fashion show takes place ). We are at the end of February and I am still awaiting my digital version of the magazine for my iPad-they are having technical issues I was told yesterday by the Zinio team. Snob’s content in the last few months has also left me uninspired and I used to look forward to every issue….). My question is, if you publication is behind schedule, a big ‘no-no’ in the publishing community, can you run a country as big as Russia without a glitch ?

In the meantime, Mikhail Prokhorov also has a very strong ally in his elder sister, Irena Prokhorova ( in general it’s not common for wives or sisters to appear during the campaigning process in Russia and I think it’s a great shame, as people who are close to us shed light on who we really are ). While PM Putin refuses to take part in political presidential debates, he has nominated certain people to act as his proxies and a couple of weeks ago I saw the debate between PM’s representative, Russia’s celebrated actor and movie director Nikita Mikhalkov, while Mikhail Prokhorov was represented by his sister-that debate was a masterpiece of wonderful public speaking and should become a lesson of sorts to politicians-a gracious, smart woman who stood her ground, listened to her opponent and won hands down in that debate, winning respect of her opponent in the process-believe me, that’s an exception to the rule, as one generally struggles to out-speak our famed movie director on any subject. Nikita Mikhalkov even went as far as to say that if Irena Prokhorova was taking part in the Presidential race, he would vote for her. You almost wonder why we don’t have many women in Russian politics, but then you realise that decent people try to stay out of politics, if they want to survive and remain true to their inner beliefs.

I think Russia has its own, unique path, but I also think we need change, desperately. Not a revolution, not a mutiny-we have had those, they don’t work to our advantage, but we need to become honest about things that are not working, thus preventing the country and the nation from flourishing and to rectify that, we need new blood. Will Mikhail  Prokhorov bring change with his promise to support hard-working individuals, investments in medicine, education and infrastructure ? Will he inspire change by his promise to donate the vast majority of his wealth to charity, if he becomes Russia’s President ? Who knows if he really means what he says, but it certainly makes interesting viewing to see him trying to bring changes to the existing status quo…….

I also think that the field for the Presidential race needs to be even for all of the participants, so everyone starts the race from square one. Candidates have to have the same level of press exposure and air time and each politician needs to work bloody hard in order to win this battle, including personally taking part in political debates and campaigning,  as opposed to making the decision about who runs our country instead of us-can you imagine that happening in the US, France or Great Britain for example ? I certainly admire Prokhorov for having the guts to try to tip the balance and to try to change the statically frozen things. Will I vote for him? Remains to be seen….

3 thoughts on “Russian elections: Vladimir Pozner interview with Mikhail Prokhorov

  1. Dear Galina,

    Thought i’d drop a few lines with regards to what you had written above.

    1) It is very true that Russia needs change. But not chaotic change. We already had that in the 1990s and look where it got us.

    2) In the last 30 years China managed to be a big economy and at the same time post above average GDP growth rates. Is there much democracy there or has the state carefully opened up the economy in parts and guided business in the right direction? The latter. Ever changing power is good for developed countries with a stable environment and low growth rates. Not for emerging economies where a robust and ambitious 20-30-year plan is required to turn things around big time. Also one must not ignore the troubles that the current US and European political elite had gotten their countries into by promissing too much to the people at the expense of common sense and economic logic. How many not on the brink of bankruptcy countries are there left in the EU now? Not many.

    3) You can argue a lot about Putin’s success while in power being driven only by the 10-fold rise on oil price, however one needs to be a fool to discount the effort it took to bring the country together. A country which was on the brink of both civil war and economic anarchy.

    4) Demonstrations and public outcry after the Duma elections are a positive if the people in power react. And they have done so. The people have given a clear message. Stability is great, but we want to move on: more freedom, more change and less corruption. If this is not implemented, the reigning power will be driven out before the new 6-year presidential term expires. Via brute force, Middle East style. It is my opinion that the current political elite understands the message and will do something about and is in the best position to do so out of all currently available options. Also one must understand one very important thing. Say, you’re the man in charge. Do you run the country on your own? No. You have a team. Is it perfect? By no means. Can you get another team and change absolutely everything straight away? No. That might lead to the team staying and you yourself going out the door. So how can you change the team? You need support. And who best to support you than your own people? When, the people are in the streets protesting you have every legitimate reason to change the team. The existing team will understand.

    5) Now, let’s consider the candidates. a)Zhirinovsky – cloun. b) Mironov – only a year ago he was taking the party line. Has he really got what it takes and is he a man who can force change? No way. c) Zyuganov. Too old. Communist. Still talks about privatizing the O&G sector and depriving business of assets in favour of the state. Exactly who will drive the economy when business takes off for the airport, being scared of what comes next? The state? Economic history tells us that business is much more effective. You just can’t argue with that. d) Prohorov. My personal favourite. Exactly how many successful businesses has he built? His biggest source of wealth is the stake in Norilsk that he privatized on the cheap and luckily sold right before the global economy slumped into crisis mode. And only because he had a conflict with his former partner. Would he have sold the asset otherwise? People close to him told me he wouldn’t have. Moreover, part of the payment was in Rusal shares, which are still trading at half the price. Polyus is a spin-off from Norilsk. Onexim? Bankrupt. RBC? His team, which has 6 out of 9 seats on the board has voted neutral on every single decision proposed by management in the last 2 years. The company, which has great potential, is standing still. MFK? bankrupt. New MFK? Fail. Rosbank? Ok, that he sold well. Open investments? Fail. Snob? No profits, quality has deteriorated. E car? Yet to see. So far looks like his dream, rather than economically viable and profitable reality. Intergeo? Done nothing. TGK 4? Trades several times below where he bought the asset. Optogan? Might work, yet to see how he competes with global majors in diod light production. Rencap? No value extracted. Soglasie insurance? Ok, built from scratch, worth something, i give him that. In summary, does the above remind you of a success story? So exactly why will he be successful in running a whole country? Especially given that a country has many aspect in its functioning process, than a business. Take a stupid example. Is he going to cut the number of teachers to the level where it becomes economically viable? Will he really be able to transform his mindset from profit extraction to social responsibility? Hm. I’ll let you decide on your own. And one last question. Why is 3/4 of his wealth not reported in his presidential submission documents and lies offshore? So which part is going to give away? 1/4? Nice. His sister is a very nice person indeed. So what? Is she the only decent person in the country?

    6) Exactly why are so many rich, able and smart people leaving the country? If you guys want change, stay home and do something about instead of making up excuses and pointing the finger at somebody else. Always easy to critise and do nothing yourself. Much more difficult to have the guts and and the will to do something about it yourself. Take my place of employment. A government bank. A big one. And you know what? With a good team in 4 years in became a turnaround and success story. It can be done. The effort was supported from the very top. Just you yourself have to be committed. If everybody takes that approach, Russia will succeed and in the next elections you will have good options to chose from. But right now we don’t. I vote for Putin.


    Your brother Oleg.

    1. 1) I never suggested chaotic change is needed, chaos cannot be beneficial in any way.
      2) I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the statement that Russian business has been guided in the right direction by the state, in my opinion State often uses large businesses to their own advantage and owners of small and medium businesses feel stiffled due to high levels of bribing and bureacratic approach.

      And I don’t think you are being completely objective when you critisise EU and USA promises to their population against common sense-in Russia people aren’t given politically motivated promises, particularly the Army?
      3) I agree with you, Putin was a uniting and strong force during the times of turmoil.
      4) You make a very good point here, but so far I remain unconvinced that men in power will respond productively to the public’s discontent. Current retoric reminds me very much of the communist times.
      5) You make very interesting, thought provoking arguments here, and I agree with you 100% when it comes to Zuganov, Mironov and Zhirinovskyi-in the future, if their parties want to survive and become a force to be reconed with, they need an injection of new blood and new leadership. Prokhorov stands on his own here and it will be interesting to see what route he takes and how he evolves as a politician.
      6) I take your point on board, the difference is that you work for a very large state institution that has support and opportunity to be listened to-and that does make quite a difference.

  2. 2) I didn’t say the Russian state did a great job in that respect. There are battles won and lost. I was just citing some examples of record breaking growth. Another example is Singapore. Same thing in terms of leadership and role of the State.
    4) We will see. The main point though is that the Russian population in its entirety is rather mediocre. There are good people and great people that you might never find elsewhere, but the average level of social standing and education has deteriorated. Not sure that at this point the power can be given to the masses. On the contrary.
    5) Sure, let’s see how he evolves. But his career does not suggest him to be a great leader. He’s a bright person, no doubt. But leadership is something very different.

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