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What's behind Russian tycoon Prokhorov's abrupt political exit?

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov blames the Kremlin for orchestrating a mutiny within his Right Cause political party, which could have taken some support from Putin's United Russia party.

By Correspondent / September 15, 2011

Billionaire businessman Mikhail Prokhorov speaks at a news conference during the Right Cause party conference in Moscow Sept. 15. Prokhorov resigned on Thursday from the party he was recently elected to lead, accusing Kremlin factions of dirty political tricks that split his power base, and vowed to boycott a December parliamentary election.

Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

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Moscow

Russia's third-richest man, industrialist Mikhail Prokhorov, threw a wrench into the country's finely tuned system of "managed democracy" Thursday by abruptly abandoning the political party that he took over just three months ago.

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The unexpected exit of a rising political star appears to be the result of a bitter split within Mr. Prokhorov's party that the billionaire oligarch blames on Kremlin meddling.

Until recently Mr. Prokhorov, who is worth $18 billion according to Forbes Magazine, had been best known in the US as owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. In Russia, he's been constantly in the headlines as the country's most eligible bachelor, an amateur athlete who posts videos on YouTube of his jet-ski stunts, and the somewhat quixotic promoter of electric cars.

In June, Prokhorov took over a moribund pro-business party, Right Cause, and announced his intention to turn it into a viable political vehicle that could hurdle the 7 percent vote barrier to gain admission to the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, in elections slated for Dec. 4. He was awarded lavish coverage on state-run TV, and billboards sprouted everywhere with his face and chosen slogan: "Strength lies in power. The one who is right is stronger."

He talked about becoming prime minister if Right Cause did well in the Duma polls, and hinted that he might even run for president in elections next March.

Since the last Russian oligarch who dabbled in politics against the Kremlin's will, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is now enduring his ninth year in prison, it was widely assumed that Prokhorov was acting in concert with the Kremlin's chief ideologist Vladislav Surkov, architect of Russia's tightly controlled electoral system.

On Thursday, Prokhorov admitted that he had met regularly with Mr. Surkov, but insisted that "Surkov never offered me this post to head the party. It was my decision" to get into politics.

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