Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov called dozens of reporters to a hastily organized news conference in his ninth-floor office on Wednesday to declare that he would not be ousted from Right Cause amid an attempted mutiny.
Prokhorov, elected leader of the pro-business party with the Kremlin’s implicit blessing less than three months ago, accused Kremlin officials of encouraging the party’s old guard to stage a coup on the first day of Right Cause’s election convention, which kicked off on Wednesday without him.
But an unidentified Kremlin official told Interfax that the squabble was a publicity stunt co-scripted by the billionaire and the Kremlin.
“You must be waiting for me to say I’m leaving. No way,” Prokhorov told reporters and cameramen in his oval office on the top floor of his Onexim Group building in central Moscow.
Wearing a confident expression behind his huge desk, he said bluntly that his party was being “raided”
in a manner that reminded him of the illegal corporate takeovers of the 1990s.
At least 21 regional delegates at the convention Wednesday were replaced by “clones” with forged credentials, he said.
The first day of the convention was “technical,” he said, but the “clones” could vote for his ouster later on.
One “real” delegate, Irkutsk region’s Yevgeny Seledtsov, who attended the news conference, said “my body was kicked out” and cell phone seized when he tried to film Wednesday’s session.
“Our regional representatives have been under serious pressure from governors and deputy governors,” Prokhorov said.
“There is no split in the party but pressure from the president’s administration,” he added.
Prokhorov said the “raid” was orchestrated by Rady Khabirov, the Kremlin’s deputy chief of staff on domestic affairs. He did not say why. Khabirov did not comment Wednesday.
Prokhorov said it did not appear to him as a coordinated Kremlin crackdown because he had recently met with Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s first deputy chief of staff and chief political strategist, and no conflict issues were raised.
In retaliation for the mutiny, Prokhorov held up a piece of paper with orders to suspend the party’s executive committee, including party member Andrei Dunayev, and expel old party hand Andrei Bogdanov. Both men have been described in media reports as Kremlin envoys.
Rifat Shaikhutdinov, a former spin doctor for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and former Liberal Democrat, was appointed acting head of the executive committee.
Prokhorov promised more details on Thursday.
Indeed, the battle appeared to be far from over. Bogdanov – the former leader of the Democratic Party of Russia, which was merged with two others to create Right Cause in 2008 – said later Wednesday that Prokhorov had no right to expel him.
Interfax, citing unidentified party officials, reported that the convention might yet vote on Prokhorov’s ouster on Thursday.
Bogdanov, a senior Freemason who ran for president in 2008, said earlier that Prokhorov should not step down but “if he does, there’s a worthy replacement for him,” Interfax reported.
Bogdanov named no names. Kommersant, citing party sources, said he might be seeking the job for himself. But Gazeta. ru reported that liberal-minded Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh had been offered the post by the Kremlin.
Belykh, who used to head the Union of Right Forces, which was also merged into the Right Cause, even discussed the appointment with President Dmitry Medvedev last week, Gazeta. ru said.