MOSCOW -- Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has laid out a detailed electoral manifesto ahead of the presidential polls in March and vowed that if he's elected, he'll reverse some of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's key policies.
The tycoon, who submitted 2 million signatures to the Electoral Commission in support of his candidacy this week -- one of the final barriers to being registered in the race for the Kremlin -- said he would reinstate gubernatorial elections and repeated his intention to pardon
jailed tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on January 19, Prokhorov also said he would shorten presidential terms from six to four years and appoint former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin as his prime minister.
In his "The Real Future" election program, Prokhorov pledges to dismantle state control of the media and break up huge energy monopolies. He says if elected he will prohibit all forms of censorship and state control of major television and radio stations, and break up gas giant Gazprom. He also says he favors better relations with the European Union but does not mention the United States.
The billionaire, one of seven potential candidates in the March 4 polls who has long had a close relationship with the Kremlin, also dismissed allegations he was ordered by pro-Putin spin doctors to run in the elections.
"It's a very good myth, but it is very harmful to my reputation and could take me out of the race," Prokhorov said. "There never was such a phone call."
The 46-year-old Prokhorov has been criticized by some in the opposition as a Kremlin stooge
whose candidacy in the presidential race is aimed at dividing the opposition's share of the vote.
Prokhorov said he decided to enter the race on September 24, the day President Dmitry Medvedev announced he would stand aside for his mentor Putin's planned return to the Kremlin.
Analysts have pointed to Medvedev's announcement as one of the key catalysts that provoked tens of thousands of Russians to take to the streets over alleged election rigging in December's State Duma polls.
Prokhorov promised if elected to allow presidents to only serve two terms in their lifetimes -- as opposed to the current prohibition on more than two consecutive terms. He also pledged to restore direct elections for members of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament. Additionally, he said he would find a government post for former fellow oligarch Khodorkovsky to make use of his "talents."
He made other populist promises that may appeal to Russia's protest movement, including the scrapping of what have been dubbed "migalki," a colloquialism for the blue flashing lights that allow government cars to flout traffic laws.
Must 'Putin Go'?
Prokhorov attended a major anti-Kremlin protest on December 24 and alluded to two key protest leaders, anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny and the popular fiction writer Boris Akunin, in his interview. But he stopped short of agreeing with a central slogan of the protesters that "Putin must go."
"The problem is that we see everything in black and white -- either it is a yes, or it is a no," Prokhorov said. "For the country to develop, it is important that this is Akunin's country, Navalny's country, Putin's country and Prokhorov's country. We all have to be able to agree. As for who is right and who is wrong -- free, transparent elections should settle that."
A recent Levada Center poll found just 3 percent would vote for Prokhorov if the election were held this weekend.
Out of the seven potential candidates, four have already been registered, including: Putin; Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov; Sergei Mironov, leader of the center-right A Just Russia; and Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.
The Central Election Commission has eight days to decide whether to approve the signatures of Prokhorov, Yabloko's Grigory Yavlinksy, and Dmitry Mezentsev, the governor of Irkutsk, and to officially register them.
Written by Tom Balmforth based on reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service and additional agency reporting