Lawmakers accused Dmitry Gudkov, one of the remaining two pro-opposition figures in Russia’s 450-member parliament, of treason Friday and called him to go before an ethics panel.
The charge is the latest in a series of charges brought against opposition figures as President Vladimir Putin enters his 13th year in power. The charges against Gudkov, however, are more striking since he holds a position in government. It is a possibility that Gudkov will face the same fate as his father, Gennady Gudkov, another opposition figure in Parliament who the body expelled last September on ethics charges.
Lawmakers accuse Gudkov, who came to the United States in early March and spoke at a Washington panel March 4 sponsored by Freedom House and the Foreign Policy Initiative, of making statements "effectively tantamount to calls for illegal acts that violate the sovereignty of the Russian state."
Gudkov spoke in English, and lawmakers charged that the speech could have been written by the "American side" since he admitted his English is poor.
Top Russian officials frequently use foreign languages abroad, among them, Putin, who spoke for a half-hour in front of the Bundestag in German in 2007. No one accused him of working for the "German side."
The charges cap off a bad week for Gudkov who was kicked out of his party, Fair Russia, on Wednesday, as a result of an ultimatum not to quit the opposition’s Coordinating Council. (Sergei Milonov, the leader of the party, said he had no knowledge of the letter.)
Gudkov is a rare bridge between the opposition and government. Russia has three other parties in Parliament other than Putin’s United Russia, but none is oppositional in any meaningful sense.
"We take part in meetings, actions, protests, because we have become a symbol of the unification between the systemic and nonsystemic, parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition," he told The Huffington Post from his tiny 13th floor Duma office in December.
He also hinted that the opposition was more important to him than being in the party. "I don't know what's most important for 'Fair Russia,' I know what is important for the opposition is changes to the constitution," he told HuffPost, advocating for a parliament with actual independence from the president.
That independence has declined sharply under Putin, with the legislative body physically moving to a building closer to the Kremlin. The Duma has passed laws recently barring Americans from adopting children in Russia and against "homosexual propaganda."
Gudkov is a strong opponent of the anti-adoption measure and is the author of a bill to repeal it. In his trip to America, he posted pictures on his LiveJournal of him visiting adopted Russian children.The trip earned the attention of state-controlled television, which followed him around with cameras. NTV ambushed him outside the American ambassador's residence in Moscow. He asked how they knew he was there and
He joked that the experience made him think that Russian TV had become uncensored. "I even felt a little awkward," he wrote on his blog. "So much attention to my person, and to my distinguished colleagues they did not even mention a word!"
Like many figures of the Russian opposition, Gudkov has a huge following on social media. "I think that in Russia, a technological revolution has happened. The Internet has become for many millions, the most important source of information," he told HuffPost, adding that for many, the main source of information is still heavily censured state television.
Gudkov appeared on Russian state TV Thursday, and debated Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the state Duma committee on international affairs and a member of Putin's party, United Russia.
"Do you think the homeland is you?" he asked. "The homeland is my country, it is our people, it is our culture. It is my family. That is my homeland."
Gudkov pointed out the hypocrisy of Vladimir Pekhtin, a United Russia deputy who quit after blogger Alexei Navalny published documents showing he owned property in Miami Beach that he did not disclose.
"Where did he get two apartments in Miami?" he asked. "Why does his son study there? Why does he do business there?"
"Tell me, you are such patriots. Are patriots those who steal and leave, or are patriots those who engage their international colleagues in the fight against international corruption?"
Pushkov charged that American senators who Gudkov met on his trip were not interested in democracy or fighting corruption in Russia, but instead wanted to control the country like they did in the 1990s, referring to when the country was at the mercy of international creditors amidst economic collapse.
Gudkov lost the debate on the channel after he got fewer text messages in support. Still, his attack against corruption shows the danger for Putin in launching a blanket attack against pervasive corruption. Putin sacked Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, in a widely publicized corruption scandal and state television programs feature stories about corrupt officials. But it remains to be seen whether the campaign is just a way to get rid of out-of-favor elites.
For now, Gudkov is taking him at his word.
"Instead of criticizing Putin, we need to help him, to help him fight against Russian corruption because in every interview he emphasizes the importance of fighting corruption," he said at the foreign policy panel. "We need to help him to expose the bribers, by providing information on their activities abroad and here in the United States because you know Russian propaganda, Kremlin propaganda, usually use our relations -- I mean opposition and America -- to discredit us, because we are always being set forth as traitors, as State Department agents, and to destroy our motherland."