Kremlin critic says under pressure not to return to Russia

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 25, 2015 4:44 PM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Kremlin critic Ilya Ponomaryov said on Wednesday he was under pressure from state authorities not to return to Russia after reports that the country's prosecutors asked parliament to lift his immunity as an opposition lawmaker.

Opposition members accuse the Kremlin of persecuting critics of President Vladimir Putin and say the former Soviet spy is responsible for the campaign that culminated in the Feb.27 killing of senior opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Nemtsov and Ponomaryov were among the leaders of street protests against Putin that swept through Moscow in 2011 and 2012. The killing of Nemtsov has shaken the Russian opposition, deepening a sense of despair and fear among them.

Ponomaryov has fallen under increased pressure in Russia since becoming the only lawmaker in the 450-strong lower chamber of parliament, the Duma, to vote against the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine a year ago.

He said in a blog this week he has been away from Russia for nearly nine months, mainly in the United States.

Russian news agencies quoted a senior Duma official on Wednesday as saying the country's prosecutors have filed documents seeking to revoke Ponomaryov's immunity.

"The date of my return to Russia in May is nearing. I kept thinking - will they let me or not," Ponomaryov wrote on Twitter on Wednesday in posting a report about the prosecutors' reported move. "Today they gave me an answer."

However, in comments carried by Russian news agencies late on Wednesday, he said that although he had been planning to return to Russia he might not come back if he risked being put under arrest.

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But he ruled out seeking asylum abroad and blamed Russian authorities for trying to squeeze him out.

"There will be no political asylums no matter how badly some Kremlin spin doctors, who are trying to push me towards this, would want that. They will not live to see that," he said in comments carried by the Russian state TV broadcaster Rossiya24.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Dominic Evans)