MOSCOW, August 7 (RIA Novosti) – A group of 37 CEOs and entrepreneurs from Russian internet companies and start-up businesses have announced their backing for opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s bid to become mayor of Moscow, in a rare intervention in favor of opposition politics by Russian business.
Their support for Navalny at the upcoming election, at which he is aiming to unseat incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, will be logistical as well as financial, according to a “social contract” signed by the business leaders and published by Navalny on his blog Wednesday.
Russian business has largely avoided backing the opposition since billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed in 2003, and his oil company Yukos broken up. Khodorkovsky remains in prison.
“We expect Navalny to defend the rule of law, support independent courts and ensure that officials are really accountable before society,” the business leaders stated in the contract. “And we will support Navalny’s policies with reputational, financial, organizational and other resources.”
The 37 signatories to the document include Dmitry Navosha, director of sports website sports.ru, the founder of Russian online trading platform Wikimart.ru Kamil Kurmakayev, recruitment firm HeadHunter president Yury Virovets, and Shakhar Vaiser, who set up Get Taxi, an online taxi ordering company based in Moscow.
But the announcement does not necessarily mean Navalny - who was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement last month before being freed ahead of an appeal - will be receiving financial support directly from the coffers of Russian companies. Individuals, but no organizations, have so far donated to Navalny’s election campaign, according to the candidate’s campaign manager, Leonid Volkov, Vedomosti reported.
Moscow's mayoral election will take place on September 8. Acting Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who is supported by the ruling United Russia party, is the clear frontrunner in the race according to recent polls.
This is not the first time that business leaders have come out in support of Navalny: 16 top executives said last May that they had donated 4.4 million rubles ($135,000) to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund. Such announcements are rare, however, with many fearing that any association with the political opposition could mean negative consequences for their businesses.
The social contract idea resulted from a meeting between Navalny and a group of businessmen two weeks ago, Kurmakayev told Vedomosti newspaper.
“It is often said that ‘businessmen are outside politics,’ but we think that this position is cowardly and hypocritical,” the 37 businessmen said Wednesday. “Fear of public statements and isolation is a road to nowhere. It is time to admit that politics has a direct influence on business: on us ourselves, colleagues, market regulators and law enforcement officers.”
Navalny said in a subsequent tweet that open support for his candidacy by such business leaders was an “absolute landmark political event.”