‘It would’ve been foolish to think they wouldn’t come for us’ Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov is facing five years in prison. We spoke to his wife, Valeriya Gudkova, about his case.

Dmitry Gudkov. June 1, 2021.Danil Kozin / AP / Scanpix / LETA

On the morning of June 1, law enforcement officers raided the home of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov. The former State Duma deputy was then taken in for questioning, and by evening reports had emerged that Gudkov was a suspect in a criminal case for allegedly “causing property damage through deception or breach of trust.” The politician’s aunt, Irina Yermilova, is also a suspect in the case. Gudkov is being held in a temporary detention center in Moscow and his remand hearing is set to take place soon. To find out more about the circumstances surrounding Gudkov’s arrest, Meduza spoke to his wife, Valeriya Gudkova. 

When Meduza contacted Valeriya Gudkova for an interview, she was on her way to a temporary detention center on Moscow’s Petrovka Street to drop off supplies for her husband, opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov. “My husband and [his aunt] Irina Petrovna [Yermilova] are there,” Gudkova explains afterward. “We were almost too late, but we managed to do it — they accepted our package. The only thing they didn’t take was the slippers Dima asked for. Somehow they set off the metal detector.” 

Gudkova hasn’t had any direct contact with her husband since his arrest, though she says he was visited by the Public Monitoring Commission (an organization tasked with overseeing the observance of prisoners’ rights). “There isn’t much more news from him. Yesterday he passed me a note through his lawyer. It said that he loves me. And for me to hug all the kids. He has three, our son Sasha, and Nastya and Vanya from his first marriage,” Gudkova tells Meduza. “[He said] to say hello to his parents. He’s feeling as upbeat as possible.”

Despite the circumstances, Gudkova says she’s doing okay, as well. “I’m constantly on the phone. Constantly trying to resolve ongoing issues — moreover, without any contact with Dmitry. Of course I’m worried, but I have no time to panic,” she explains. “I’m being offered a tremendous amount of support. A lot of people are writing to me, all offering their help. In this environment of course I feel that I have even more strength.”

Law enforcement officers showed up at the family’s summer home early in the morning on June 1, Gudkova recalls: “The officers say that they warned us, that they knocked, but we didn’t hear. But that goes without saying because it was seven or half-past seven in the morning.” When Valeriya and Dmitry went downstairs and opened the door, they were greeted by a group of investigators and riot police officers.

“Thirty-seven people took part in the operation at our dacha. Our home was cordoned off, there were armed people surrounding it. In principle, they conducted themselves in a reasonable manner,” Gudkova says. “I asked for my child to be able to leave the dacha’s property with the nanny. He was let out calmly. And then the search began.”

Gudkova has told her son, Sasha, that his father will be in jail for the next 36 days. “We don’t hide the truth of life from him,” she says. “He also knows what’s possible. But he’s never seen riot police break into the house […] When they pounded on the door, he even began to cry. But in the process, feeling that his parents were acting with confidence, that no one was afraid or panicking, he relaxed too.”

Asked how she herself remained calm in this situation, Valeriya Gudkova says the raids hardly came as a surprise given the current political climate in Russia. “Take a look around. Look at what’s happening to people in politics. It would’ve been foolish of us to think they wouldn’t come for us someday,” she tells Meduza. “Of course, this whole story about a criminal case is absolutely made up and created out of thin air. There isn’t even a whiff of a criminal case here. My husband isn’t involved in business, he has nothing to do with this company. Of course, this is all a big nothing-burger.”

Gudkova and her husband were informed about the criminal case immediately, but when they read the warrant the charges left them confused: “My husband asked questions, ‘I don’t understand, what have I got to do with it? Can you explain to me what article 165, section 2 is?’,” Gudkova recalls. “We were very surprised. We didn’t expect that such a [Criminal Code] article could be applied to Dima. Much less so quickly — in less than 12 hours he went from being a witness to a suspect. Can you imagine? He just found out that as it turns out, this story has something to do with him. It all happened in a single day.”

Dmitry Gudkov stands accused of “causing large-scale property damage through deception or breach of trust” — a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Asked what she knows about the criminal case, Gudkova says that it has to do with a dispute between Irina Yermilova’s company and the city of Moscow. “The company rented a premises from the city. They renovated it because it was in terrible condition […] The company spent a lot of money [on the renovations]. The city tripled the rent and a dispute began between the company and the city — the debt for the lease built up during this time,” Gudkova explains. “In terms of size, [the debt] is insignificant. And the state in which the premises were returned to the city is like night and day.”

Valeriya Gudkova outside of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Investigative Department in Moscow

Dmitry’s formal connection to the case remains unclear. “He’s linked by the fact that he’s the son of the Gudkovs. This is his only connection. And the fact that he’s involved in politics. That’s it, there are no other reasons,” Gudkova maintains. “Of course, this is a political case and he has nothing to do with this company — neither according to the paperwork, nor in actual fact. And this is easily verifiable.”

While some have speculated that Dmitry Gudkov’s arrest is related to his reported plans to run in the State Duma elections this September, Gudkova emphasizes the fact that he hadn’t made any formal announcements. “He was in the negotiation stage with Yabloko. The process was ongoing, there was no official statement yet,” she tells Meduza. “You may recall that when he was in the State Duma [in 2011–2016], he managed to do a lot. Of course, I understand that it wasn’t on the scale he would have liked. But nevertheless, there was a voice, and not just one — there were more [opposition figures] there.” 

Asked about reports that her husband received threats warning him against running for parliament, Gudkova says that her family has been under constant pressure for many years. “We aren’t alone in this situation,” she adds. “It’s not just our family, but anyone who takes an opposition stance, has an opposite opinion, [or] doesn’t agree with the authorities. Unfortunately, this is the reality today.”

But although this isn’t the first time Gudkov has been persecuted, Gudkova feels this time is different simply because of the nature of the charges against him. “You see, in essence, this is an economic crime. How could a politician who has never been involved in business do something like that?” she asks. “I understand that this is out of some kind of despair and the impossibility of imputing anything else to my husband. This is always the case with honest people. If you take an honest position, it’s difficult to fight you on equal footing. [So] they choose such methods.”

Valeriya Gudkova maintains that her husband is “absolutely innocent and everyone understands that.” Nevertheless, she’s compiling “all possible arguments” to support this claim on Dmitry Gudkov’s Telegram channel. And she’s not discouraged by the prospect of an unfair trial. In her words, she simply can’t choose to “no longer hope for anything and do nothing.” “We will still resist and fight for the truth,” Gudkova says.

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Interview by Kristina Safonova

Summary by Eilish Hart

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