Freddy Gray Freddy Gray

The man who wouldn’t be president

Why Russia’s anti-corruption tsar is eager to talk himself out of the race

Boris Titov is running to be president of Russia, but he’s eager to talk himself out of the job. ‘I am not a good politician,’ he says, over breakfast at the Lanesborough hotel in Knightsbridge. ‘To be a president means you need to be wise, a big politician like Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping, Lee Kuan Yew. Russia needs a tough politician in the presidential chair and I am not that man.’

Titov knows that on 18 March, Vladimir Putin, the toughest politician of our age, will be re-elected as Russia’s Supreme Commander-in-Chief. ‘Everybody understands that,’ he says. ‘We are not stupid. I have common sense.’

Which prompts the question: why run? By way of an answer, Titov starts talking about House, the American TV medical drama starring Hugh Laurie. ‘You know him, the British actor, yes?’ he says. ‘In one of the series he was diagnosing an American politician, and he says to the politician, “Why do you fight? Why do you go for election when you will never win?” And this guy answered with a very good saying: “If I wouldn’t have been fighting, the policies of our state would have been completely different.”’ Titov is pushing not himself, then, but a platform — his Party of Growth’s ‘New Economics for Russia’.

‘The main task of our participation in this campaign is to use Putin,’ he says, ‘because we think that if the country does not go one way, our way, we face huge risks not just economic but political and social in Russia.’ He will not attack Putin’s legacy, but he will be ‘criticising today’s economic proposals in Russia’.

Russia sceptics, or Putinophobes, would reply that Titov is a patsy. He’s no Alexei Navalny, the outspoken critic of the government who was arrested last weekend as he took part in a protest to boycott the election.

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