Kremlin backer resigns seat, Russia opposition sees ploy

Reuters News

10/19/2012 1:43:35 PM - Reuters News

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A backer of President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he was resigning his parliament seat over allegations about his business interests, but opponents saw it as a cover for moves to stifle dissent.

Alexei Knyshov, a lawmaker for less than a year, posted a blog saying he decided to quit over allegations he violated a law barring members of parliament from running a business while serving in office.

Putin loyalists said the member of Putin's United Russia party was courageous, but critics saw his decision as an attempt to deflect criticism from the dismissal last month of deputy Gennady Gudkov, an outspoken Putin critic, over similar allegations.

"He (Knyshov) was chosen as a victim of an operation ... conducted today by United Russia to justify itself in front of everybody for the extrajudicial, political punishment executed against me," Gudkov said.

Opposition groups and rights campaigners accuse Putin of orchestrating a clampdown on his critics since his return to the Kremlin in May.

Following his dismissal, Gudkov's allies have started pointing to United Russia parliament members - Knyshov included - who they say have lucrative business interests that in some cases support lavish lifestyles.

The Kremlin denies accusations of carrying out a clampdown on its opponents or of attacking them via their business though other prominent Putin critics have also been presented with criminal charges or have investigations opened into them.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Michael Roddy)