Russian lawmaker assailed for U.S. visit


Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva speaks at a news conference in 2012. (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)
March 15, 2013

Early this month, a young opposition-minded member of the Russian parliament spoke for about 10 minutes at a Capitol Hill conference on U.S.-Russia relations. Back home, it’s as if he was found with the Kremlin plans in his boots, ready to hand them over to the CIA.

On Friday, the deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament asked the ethics committee to investigate Dmitri Gud­kov. He accused the 33-year-old Duma member of calling for American interference in Russia’s domestic affairs — treachery at its worst here and something President Vladimir Putin often warns against.

No doubt Gudkov had access to secret material, complained Sergei Zheleznyak, the deputy speaker and a member of the ruling United Russia party, and his cooperation with the United States could damage Russian security. And if that weren’t enough, Gudkov spoke English.

Left unsaid: Gudkov was one of eight members who refused to vote for a ban on American adoptions, which was approved in apparent response to the Magnitsky law that the U.S. Congress enacted last year imposing visa and financial sanctions on corrupt Russians.

Gudkov took part in a March 4 conference sponsored by three U.S. organizations promoting democracy and human rights — Freedom House, the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Institute of Modern Russia. He was in what Russian authorities would consider dangerous company — Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), an author of the Magnitsky Act, and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the 85-year-old leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called her the rock star of the Russian human rights movement. And the topic? “New Approach or Business as Usual — U.S.-E.U.-Russia relations after Putin’s crackdown.”

Gudkov called the Duma a rubber stamp. He described the fabrication of criminal cases against protesters, meant to intimidate others. He urged a moderate approach to relations with Russia. Ordinary Russians, he said, support the Magnitsky Act.

Last fall, Gudkov’s father, Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB officer-turned-democrat, was expelled from the lower house on the grounds that he operated a business in violation of Duma rules. On Wednesday, A Just Russia expelled the two Gudkovs from the party.

In a radio interview Friday, the younger Gudkov was unabashed. He had stated nothing in Washington that he had not proclaimed many times in Moscow, he said. His hosts were supportive.

“Mr. Gudkov came, paying his own expenses,” Ellen Bork, director of human rights at the Foreign Policy Initiative, said by e-mail, “to speak in a country where freedoms of thought and speech are permitted and respected.”

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