Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has announced that he will stand against Vladimir Putin in next year’s presidential election.
Prokhorov, who made a fortune as a metals tycoon and a basketball club owner, told a press conference on Monday that he will seek to challenge Putin’s 12-year hold on power in next March’s poll.
“I have made the most serious decision of my life,” he said. “I am running for president.”
The announcement comes after tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets this weekend in protest against the results of the country’s parliamentary election on December 4, which saw Putin’s United Russia party maintain a majority.
In central Moscow, 25,000 people braved sub-zero temperatures on Saturday to protest the election result. Another 15,000 took part in rallies in 30 cities across the country.
On Monday, the country’s president Dmitry Medvedev ordered an investigation into allegations of vote-rigging to allay criticism.
Putin served the maximum of two terms as president from 2000 to 2008, after which he stepped aside for Medvedev to assume office. Putin, who has been the prime minister for four years since stepping down, has said that he would run for presidency again next year.
Prokhorov recently quit as head of the Right Cause party, which received only 1 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections.
The tycoon, who is the country’s third richest man and the owner of NBA’s New Jersey Nets, said that he would need 2 million signatures to compete in the elections.
He said that he’d spend one-tenth of his resources criticizing Putin and the rest laying out his own policies. He added that he wasn’t afraid to suffer the same fate as oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, who supported the liberal opposition to Putin, was first arrested in 2003 and is not up for release until 2017. He is regarded as a political prisoner by Amnesty International.