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Gudkov case stirring wide public response

September 13, 2012, 17:38 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

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 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