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No Country for Young Oligarchs

CAMBRIDGE – Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of gold mines in Siberia and a professional basketball team in the United States, is one of Russia’s richest men, with a net worth of $18 billion. This past June, he agreed to lead a center-right political party to contest December’s parliamentary elections. Prokhorov, who is 46, seemed to believe that his business experience would boost his political prospects.

Prokhorov was wrong, and resigned in September from the party he had led. But, whatever embarrassment he may now be feeling is certainly a better fate than that meted out to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, another Russian oligarch with political ambitions, who is now languishing in his eighth year of imprisonment since boldly challenging Vladimir Putin’s ideas about how Russia should be run.

Prokhorov’s withdrawal preceded by just a few days the announcement by United Russia, the country’s ruling party, that Putin will seek a third presidential term in 2012, swapping jobs with the incumbent, President Dmitri Medvedev, who will become Prime Minister. That may have been too much for Alexei Kudrin, the finance minister since 2000, whose disagreement with Medvedev’s increased spending led to his resignation.

In the absence of new faces or ideas, the only prospect for the coming election year will be to pump more petrodollars into a struggling and grossly inefficient economy. That spending binge will feed corruption, inflation, and natural-resource dependency – the three evils with which Kudrin has fought throughout his tenure.