Putin floats idea of tycoon, former rival for cabinet seat
Vladimir Putin on Wednesday suggested a cabinet seat for his tycoon rival Mikhail Prokorov (pictured), who came in a surprising third when he ran as an independent candidate in last Sunday's presidential polls.
AFP - Vladimir Putin on Wednesday suggested a seat in the cabinet for his reform-minded rival Mikhail Prokhorov but vehemently rejected opposition claims of fraud in his crushing poll win.
His comments came as anti-Putin forces prepared to regroup at a mass rally in the heart of Moscow on Saturday that the city said would be allowed to draw up to 50,000 people -- the largest such protest in a month.
The Russian strongman had until now said little about his return to a third term in the Kremlin and gave few indications on Wednesday about whether he was ready to offer concessions to the first protest movement of his 12-year rule.
He said the billionaire Prokhorov -- owner of the NBA's New Jersey Nets and an independent at the polls who came in a surprise third with eight percent of the vote -- would be welcome in his new cabinet.
"Mikhail Dmitriyevich (Prokhorov) is a serious man, a good businessman," said Putin. "In principle, he could be in demand in the government, if he should want this himself."
The suggestion is unlikely to placate many of Putin's biggest critics and Prokhorov himself previously rejected the idea of joining the government until it undertakes fundamental reforms.
The tycoon wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday that he planned to take a post-campaign vacation and offered no immediate response.
Putin will be sworn in on May 7 after winning 63.6 percent of the vote. He said he will discuss his new team's makeup with President Dmitry Medvedev at some point this week.
The former KGB spy's tone turned far more aggressive however when addressing charges from the opposition that a fair vote count would have given him a much lower level of support.
"The losers always hate the truth," Putin said firmly.
"Violations were possible and probably happened. But they could have only affected hundredths of one percent -- possibly one percent. But no more."
He also accused activists of trying to provoke violent scenes during a post-election rally in Moscow that drew 15,000 people and ended with the police moving in to disperse the crowd after some had tried to stage a sit-in.
The incident marked the first time that police had used force since the protests began in December.
Some activists saw this as a sign that their honeymoon with the authorities was over and that protests would soon be banned or as severely restricted as they had been when Putin was in the Kremlin in 2000-2008.
Putin said simply that the police acted "very correctly."
Russia's leaders have been on the defensive since parliamentary elections three months ago were accompanied by mass fraud allegations that initially inspired the protests.
The presidential election campaign was also criticised by European observers for being skewed in Putin's favour from the start.
But they noted improvement in Sunday's vote count and both European leaders and the United States acknowledged Putin's overall victory in the polls.
That recognition has taken some steam out of the protest movement amid questions about where it should head next now that Putin's third term is a reality and the next legislative elections are still five years away.
The movement's current figurehead Alexei Navalny -- a popular blogger who supports nationalist causes -- has suggested a campaign to expose the scales of corruption in Putin's government.
But a group of celebrities who side with the opposition kept the focus on the elections as they released another in a series of damning reports.
"We consider that on March 4 an insult was delivered to civil society. The institution of the Russian presidency, the electoral system and the whole state authority were discredited," the League of Voters alliance said.