Gudkov case stirring wide public response

By Itar-Tass World Service writer Lyudmila Alexandrova

The Russian State   Duma lower parliament house will consider on Friday the   so-called Gudkov case, a case when Gennady Gudkov, a   much-talked-about opposition lawmaker with the A Just   Russia party, can be stripped of his deputy mandate without   a court ruling. The lawmaker, a retired Security Service   officer, who has recently won a reputation of an active   participant in the civil protest movement, is suspected of   doing business, along with his lawmaker job, which is   forbidden by the Russian law. However the result of the   Duma voting on Gudkov’s parliamentary future seems quite   predictable – the ruling United Russia party lawmakers will   obviously vote to expel Gudkov from the Duma, as will do   the Liberal Democratic Party faction, a United Russia ally   on that matter.

Obviously, the Gudkov case, virtually a rival for   public attention to the notorious Pussy Riot case, is going   to win still bigger public response. First, it is sure to   add more fuel to the protest movement. Gudkov, who now has   nothing to lose, seems to be more than resolute. Moreover,   the opposition plans a March of Millions on the day   following the Duma voting on the Gudkov case and it is   absolutely improbable that this matter will be ignored.   Second, this precedent has already instigated a “smear war”   between A Just Russia and United Russia, which is fraught   with similar sanctions against a number of ruling party   lawmakers. Although, experts say, the authorities want to   get rid of all ruling party lawmakers who seem to be more   concerned over their own businesses than the fate of their   homeland.

On Monday, a State Duma commission for control over   lawmaker’s incomes virtually sanctioned Gudkov’s expulsion   without a court ruling. The commission recommended to   consider the possibility of depriving Gudkov of his deputy   mandate. The majority of its members voted for the   proposal, thus considering as valid the information of the   Russian Investigations Committee that Gudkov had violated   his lawmaker status which bans parliamentarians from being   engaged in commercial activities. The proposal was   supported by United Russia and the Liberal Democratic   Party. These votes (238 and 56, respectively) are quite   enough to expel the A Just Russia lawmaker. The A Just   Russia (64 votes) and the Communist Party (92 votes)   factions are going to vote against. They have even filed an   inquiry to the Russian Constitutional Court to check the   constitutionality of such a decision.

Gudkov however says the turmoil stems from his   opposition activity and pledged to continue it even without   his lawmaker mandate. Moreover, he is quite positive that   he will be arrested after the September 15 March of   Million, in which he is determined to take part. After   that, he says, his fellow opposition activists are very   much likely to come under repressions.

However, the Gudkov-tested scheme may be used against   United Russia lawmakers as well. As a response to the   anti-Gudkov campaign, A Just Russia lawmakers Ilya   Ponomaryov and Dmitry Gudkov, Gennady Gudkov’s son, used   their Internet blogs to publish information about   businesses run by their United Russia colleagues. They are   set to initiate similar checks as was launched against   Gudkov the elder. They claim that among lawmakers running   their private businesses are Duma labor and social policy   committee chairman Andrei Isayev, lawmakers Grigory   Anikeyev, Pavel Zavalny, Ilya Kostunov, and Elena   Nikolayeva. More to it, they accused Vladimir Pekhtin of   United Russia, a deputy chairman of the Duma ethics   commission and first deputy head of the United Russia   faction, of monkey business with real estate.

The Kommersant newspaper refers to a source in the   presidential administration who said that a signal had been   sent to United Russia to probe into media reports about   businesses run by United Russia lawmakers. “In the event   cases like Gudkov’s are exposed, similar measures must be   employed,” the source said.

The Duma’s specialized commission has already launched   a check into information about commercial activities of six   United Russia lawmakers. Sergei Mironov, the A Just Russia   faction leader, asked Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin on   Wednesday to initiate such probes.

The Gudkov case is a serious warning to the entire   Russian elite, Yevgeny Minchenko, the director of the   International Institute of Political Expertise, said in an   interview with the Business FM radio station. “It has not   slipped our memory that Gudkov was initially elected to the   State Duma in a one-seat constituency. He was then   supported by the ruling party. Until recently, he was   absolutely loyal to the system. He changed his attitudes   about a year ago. So, any of the United Russia lawmakers   may ponder about what awaits him or her some time in   future,” Minchenko said.

The more so is that the reasons the Duma commission   used to strip Gudkov of his lawmaker mandate “may easily be   used to deprive virtually half of all the lawmakers of   their seats or put in custody for illegal business   activities,” the expert noted.

The media coverage of the Gudkov case looks like a   political action the Kremlin has initiated to punish a   lawmaker who has run out of control, political scientist   Tatiana Stanovaya from the Centre of Political Technologies   writes on the Politcom.ru website. It might be well right,   with the only exception: one individual case might be   followed by systemic changes, she believes. “The Kremlin   wants not mere loyalty from lawmakers but guarantees of   their ‘patriotism’ in case of a political crisis. And it   means that those who are worried more about their own   businesses than about the future of the motherland will   have to lay down their mandates,” she writes.

According to Stanovaya, taking such tough steps the   authorities are obviously targeting not only their critics   or protesters but also the elite who have been ordered “to   come back home” if they want to keep their wealth. Now is   the lawmakers’ turn. A source “close to the Kremlin” told   the Izvestia newspaper that the Gudkov case is rather a   “start of a systemic work.” According to the source, all   the parties, including United Russia, were strongly   recommended to check information about their lawmakers who   run their businesses.

Over the 12 years of their tranquil life, the Putin   elite have “stored some fat” and got used to consume more   and more material wealth. But in the shade of loyal   figures, there is a whole army of “pebble on the beach”   respecting political rule only on the face of it but   actually loyal only to their interests and posts. It looks   like the Kremlin wants to cleanse their ranks, the   political scientist believes.

MOSCOW, September 13

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