Russian Billionaire Gaidamak Intends to Found New Party

Arkadi Gaidamak said to make the decision following Ariel Sharon's quitting from the Likud.

Russian-born billionaire Arkadi Gaidamak on Sunday evening announced his intention to form a new party ahead of the March elections.

Gaidamak associates told Haaretz that he wouldn't have gone forward with his plan unless Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to quit the Likud Party last week.

The Russian billionaire, who was named several weeks ago President of the International Betar Movement, wished to register the party under the name Betar. He has yet to draw the party list, and intends to do so in the coming days.

His associates claimed that Gaidamak wished to appeal to the general public, but the fact that he made the announcement on the Russian-speaking TV channel suggested the new party would be targeting the Russian vote.

According to recent polls conducted for Gaidamak, he enjoys the support of 15 percent of the general public - more than Avigdor Lieberman, Chairman of the Russian olim-based party Yisrael Betenu.

The decision was made during the last weekend following the Haaretz article on the Jewish-Russian oligarchs.

In the article, Gaidamak sharply denied any intention of entering Israeli politics. "I have no intention to join politics in Israel, and I do not wish to become a professional politician. My financial needs have been already satisfied elsewhere, and my reputation has also been established. All I wish to do is to renew the Betar Movement," he said in the interview.