MOSCOW - Vladimir Putin could follow the path of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe unless he can open up Russia's political system and fight rampant corruption, according to tycoon Alexander Lebedev.
Warning of economic catastrophe and even the prospect of Arab Spring-style unrest in the world's biggest energy producer, Lebedev painted a grim picture of Russia's future as the Kremlin prepares for the 2012 presidential election.
Prime Minister Putin, Russia's most popular politician, and his protege, President Dmitry Medvedev, have refused to say which of them will run in the election, though many diplomats believe Putin will return to the Kremlin.
Lebedev, a 51-year-old former Russian spy who made billions trading stocks and bonds after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, said Putin had still not made a final decision on whether to return or to allow Medvedev another presidential term.
But Lebedev warned that popular discontent at vast corruption and the tightly controlled political system that Putin crafted during his 2000-2008 presidency was rising.