Russian legislator pressed to quit seat over U.S. visit

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 20, 2013 2:58 PM
Russian legislator pressed to quit seat over U.S. visit

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Pro-Kremlin lawmakers sought to push one of only two liberal opposition figures out of Russia's parliament on Wednesday, urging him to give up his seat over an appearance in the United States and issue a public apology.

State Duma member Dmitry Gudkov rejected the non-binding recommendations from the chamber's ethics committee, the latest manifestation of what President Vladimir Putin's critics say is an effort to marginalize opponents and silence dissent.

An anti-American atmosphere has pervaded Russian politics since Putin, then prime minister, accused the United States of encouraging opposition protests that erupted in December 2011 as he campaigned to return to the Kremlin.

Gudkov, one of the leaders of what became the biggest opposition protests of Putin's 13-year rule, has been under fire for months at the Duma, where Putin's United Russia party holds a majority.

His father was expelled from the Duma last year and both were kicked out of the Just Russia party last week as Dmitry Gudkov began to come under fire over a March 4 conference sponsored by U.S. democracy and human rights advocacy groups.

At the conference in Washington, Gudkov criticized the Duma for its propensity to do the Kremlin's bidding and discussed how to stop corruption in the Russian government, among other things, according to media accounts.

On Friday, a senior United Russia deputy, Sergei Zheleznyak, accused Gudkov of "betrayal of national interests" and joined others in asking the ethics committee to examine his "calls for interference by the American authorities in Russian affairs".

Gudkov denies those allegations and rejected the ethics committee's call for him to quit the Duma.

"Only after you, gentlemen of United Russia," he said in televised comments. He told Ekho Moskvy radio that he had done nothing wrong in Washington and had been talking about how to help Russia tackle corruption.

Gudkov is still likely to face censure. The ethics panel recommended barring him from taking the floor at the Duma for one month and the full chamber is expected to vote on that proposal soon.

Tension between Moscow and Washington has increased since Putin announced plans in 2011 to run for a third presidential term, which he won in March 2012 despite the protests.

Relations have been strained over what the United States says are Russian moves to restrict democracy, badly undermining a "reset" in ties that President Barack Obama initiated early in his first term in 2009.

Gudkov was one of the few lawmakers who did not back a ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans, part of a law signed by Putin in December in retaliation for U.S. legislation designed to punish Russian human rights abusers.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Mark Heinrich)