Putin critic plays down 'Misha for president' badge

Putin critic plays down 'Misha for president' badge

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Putin critic plays down Misha for president badge

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov speaks from a stage during a protest against recent parliamentary election results in Moscow December 24, 2011. REUTERS photo

A leader of Russia's protest movement insisted Monday he was not backing tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov in presidential polls despite wearing a "Misha for president" badge at his New Year's Day dinner.

Boris Nemtsov, one of the top liberals spearheading the wave of protests against Vladimir Putin, said there was no political significance in the wearing of the badge. In Russian, Misha is the short, affectionate form for Mikhail.

The photograph of him wearing the badge -- first posted on Twitter by pro-opposition socialite Xenia Sobchak -- caused consternation among some activist bloggers who see Prokhorov's candidacy as a Kremlin set-up.

"I gave Prokhorov a white scarf and a white badge as a present," Nemtsov said, referring to the symbols of the nascent protest movement. "And as a joke he gave me this badge 'Misha for president'," he told Moscow Echo Radio "It's not even clear which Misha we are talking about on the badge -- Khodorkovsky, Gorbachev or Prokhorov," referring to the jailed oil magnate and last leader of the Soviet Union who are both called Mikhail.

Nemtsov said his liberal Solidarity movement had its own ideas for political reform in Russia and it was not clear if Prokhorov's presidential manifesto would reflect this.

The multi-billionaire announced his candidacy to challenge Putin in March presidential elections just after the first mass protest by the opposition on December 10 but his move was greeted with scepticism in some quarters.

Prokhorov attended the next mass protest rally in Moscow on December 24 but did not speak to the tens of thousands who showed up and just mingled with the crowds.

Putin has said that one of the weaknesses of the opposition movement is that it lacks a clear leader, although lawyer and anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny has become one of its most charismatic figures.