A few years ago, two Russian friends made a pledge to play more sports and stay in shape. Mikhail Prokhorov, a billionaire oligarch, and Boris Nemtsov, an aggressive opposition leader, shared more or less the same liberal views, and their decision to stay fit and healthy was driven by a political hunger: they wanted to live to see a time when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s authority began, finally, to decline. But for all the two men’s shared tastes—for democracy, for sports, for beautiful women—they could never agree on one crucial thing: whether they should compromise with their archenemy Putin.
On Monday they finally clashed. Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets, announced that he would run for president against Putin, an act that means he recognizes the current prime minister as a legitimate candidate. Nemtsov and other opposition leaders, meanwhile, are calling for Russians to take to the streets next week and demand Putin’s resignation.
Flirting with a crowd of journalists this afternoon, a playful smile on his lips, Prokhorov said he had made “the most serious decision” of his life. The oligarch—chosen by the Kremlin in June to lead the newly created pseudoliberal Right Cause party before being ousted in September—would become a candidate in the presidential election in March. If he failed to win, he said, he would create a new party that would support the Russian middle class.