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It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it. 

Today, New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov joined Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov and Just Russia candidate Sergey Mironov in the small pool of Russians willing to run against Vladimir Putin in the March 4, 2012 presidential elections. The last time a billionaire candidate ran against Putin he ended up in jail (and remains there) so it's not a decision to be taken lightly. Still, Russia is a different place following this month's parliamentary elections in which Putin's United Russia performed worse than expected amid widespread allegations of fraud. The ensuing mass protests throughout Russia have, for the first time, called Putin's grip on power into question. Here's how the presidential candidates are shaking things up:

Mikhail Prokhorov At a news conference today, Prokhorov said "I have made the most serious decision of my life. I am running for president," noting he will form his own party and begin collecting the 2 million signatures needed to run. According to the The Washington Post, the inroad for Prokhorov is that protesters are looking for a candidate to rally behind and have not yet found one. "Now Prokhorov is trying to seize the initiative." 

Previously, Prokhorov had been hounded by allegations that he was Putin's  puppet after joining the Right Cause minor party, which many derided as a tame opposition party orchestrated by Putin to create the semblance of competition. "But he seemed to be taking politics a little too seriously," reports the Post, "and in September he dramatically stormed out of the party, saying the Kremlin was maneuvering to oust him. He vowed to become an independent politician — and then nothing else was heard from him afterward, until Monday."

The BBC notes that the 46-year-old is "genuinely charming" with "excellent English" allowing him to converse well with Russians and non-Russians. However, " he has an Achilles heel that is a major shortcoming in today's Russian politics. He is an oligarch. For many ordinary Russians the oligarchs are the people who stole their raw materials, and in the case of Mikhail Prokhorov that includes vast amounts of gold as well as nickel."

Gennady Zyuganov A regular in the Russian race to the presidency, the 67-year-old is emboldened by the Communist Party doubling its votes to 20 percent in the parliamentary elections, which he felt could've been much more if not for "theft on an especially grand scale." He accused police of obstructing Communist monitors and said ballot boxes were stuffed before the voting began. 

Make no mistake, Zyuganov is still clinging to his Soviet past. He defends his party's use of Josef Stalin on election posters and hopes to bring the country back to its communist roots.  According to Reuters, his "Policies include nationalizing natural resources and key branches of industry and promising social guarantees, or state handouts. Financial policy would be based on a group of state banks and fiscal policy would involve introducing a progressive tax. Russia now has a flat 13 percent personal income tax."

​Zyuganov is an old hand in Russian politics but with the swelling disenchantment with Putin, his party has been the main benefactor—and he has some experience with coming close to victory. As The Wall Street Journal notes, "Zyuganov has led Russia’s Communist Party since the early 1990s and came close to winning the 1996 presidency with 32 percent of votes against Boris Yeltsin’s 35 percent." ​

 

Sergei Mironov There was hope among some progressives in Russia that opposition party A Just Russia would run a combative candidate against Putin this March instead of Mironov, a longtime ally and supporter of Putin. As The Moscow Times reports, "Some party faithful had hoped that A Just Russia would pick a fresh contender, fielding popular figure Oksana Dmitriyeva against Putin, but no alternative to Mironov was presented during the voting at the party’s congress Saturday." Instead, Mironov has said "I will enter the race not to participate, but to win," though it sounds like he'll have a hard time convincing Russians he's a serious candidate.  

Mironov has indicated that his campaign will be more serious than in 2004 when he called himself a “backup” for Putin and took less than 1 percent of the vote. “During 2004, I didn’t have the team I have now,” he told The Moscow Times, referring to A Just Russia, which was formed in 2006 as a pro-Kremlin leftist party.

Now he has enough time? Not what you'd call an ideal campaign talking point. 

 

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