‘Public politics is over in Russia’ Fearing arrest, Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov flees to Ukraine

Dmitry Gudkov during the protests in the lead up to the 2019 Moscow CIty Duma elections. July 16, 2019. Evgeny Feldman

On June 6, Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov announced that he had fled to Ukraine. This came less than a week after he was detained as a suspect in a criminal case for alleged property damage; Gudkov was released from custody without charges on June 3. Sources close to the presidential administration told Meduza that the opposition politician was released due to pressure from the Moscow city government’s political bloc. In turn, Gudkov told the media that he fled the country after his family was warned that he was still under criminal investigation and could face another arrest. Commenting on his decision to leave Russia, Gudkov said that the criminal case against him was intended to “push him out of the country” ahead of this September’s parliamentary elections. That said, he has also underscored that his departure from Russia is temporary and that he plans to continue his involvement in politics while abroad.

On June 6, opposition politician and former State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov announced that he had left Russia for Ukraine. His departure came just days after he was released from custody; law enforcement officers detained Gudkov as suspect in a criminal case on June 1. “Several close sources from the presidential administration’s circle informed [me] that if I don’t leave the country, the fake criminal case will continue until my arrest,” Gudkov wrote on Telegram on June 6. The politician said he felt confident that the case against him was launched in order to prevent him from running for the State Duma and “push me out of the country at least until election day” (Russia is set to hold parliamentary elections in September). “I hope that with my departure the gendarmes’ zeal will decrease,” Gudkov added. 

Gudkov spent 48-hours in a temporary detention center in Moscow, after being detained along with his aunt Irina Yermilova. Both the opposition politician and his aunt were held as suspects in a criminal case for alleged property damage. The case was opened over unpaid debts from a commercial lease agreement concluded between the company Sektor–2A, which Yermilova used to head, and the city of Moscow. On June 3, Gudkov was released from custody on personal recognizance to appear if summoned, without having been charged. Irina Yermilova was released that same day after agreeing to travel restrictions. 

Two sources close to the presidential administration told Meduza that Gudkov was freed due to pressure from the Moscow city government’s political bloc. According to Meduza’s sources, Gudkov is “well connected” with this group. One source added that the Russian Interior Ministry initiated Gudkov’s criminal prosecution. “The FSB is pressuring some of the oppositionists, [but] in the case of Gudkov the Interior Ministry decided to step up,” he said. 

Dmitry Gudkov said he decided to leave the country after a conversation with his father, former State Duma lawmaker Gennady Gudkov. According to Gudkov junior, his father told him on June 5 that the investigation into the criminal case was ongoing and that he had been given time to leave the country — if he didn’t flee, his younger brother, Vladimir Gudkov, would face prosecution, Gudkov senior added. “Such messages came from [my father’s] acquaintances, I received hints,” Dmitry Gudkov told the independent television channel Dozhd. 

The opposition politician maintained that he isn’t “prepared to do anything for the sake of power.” “I asked myself two questions. [If] I stayed [and] they put me in jail, does this somehow bring change closer? Alas, the answer is no. And the second question: am I prepared to sacrifice the life and health of my family and friends for the sake of coming to power one day? No, I’m not. […] I realized that I wasn’t prepared to do anything for the sake of power,” Gudkov told Dozhd. He also underscored that his departure is temporary and that he plans to continue his involvement in politics, though he didn’t specify in what way.

Later, Gudkov wrote a long post on Facebook explaining his decision to leave Russia. “We can say that public politics is over in Russia, because now the politician is the target. And this is exactly why I think that staying in the country can no longer be effective in conditions where, essentially, any political activity leads to prison terms, not only for the politicians themselves, but also for their supporters and family members.” he wrote. 

A source told Interfax that Gudkov’s department violated the conditions of his release, claiming that the opposition politician was under travel restrictions. Gudkov denied these claims, saying that didn’t sign a written undertaking not to leave — only an obligation to appear before investigators or in court if summoned. In turn, Gudkov’s lawyer, Mikhail Biryukov, explained that failure to appear at the request of investigators could result in Gudkov being put on a wanted list, but he would have to be charged in absentia first. 

Dmitry Gudkov fled to Ukraine with his younger brother, Vladimir, because — according to the opposition politician — “he was next.” Gudkov’s wife, Valeriya Gudkova, and his children are still in Russia (according to Gudkov, they will join him later), as is his co-defendant in the criminal case, his aunt Irina Yermilova (who, as previously mentioned, is under travel restrictions). Gudkov plans to spend some time in Ukraine and then travel to the city of Varna, Bulgaria, where his parents live. “There, I think, I will have time to propose some further plan of action,” he told Dozhd. 

The Kremlin isn’t following the case against Dmitry Gudkov or his departure from Russia, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on June 7. “Any citizen can leave the country legally, if he doesn’t have any encumbrances [or] disqualifications. He may well leave the country, return to the country, or not return to the country. This is an absolutely free process,” Peskov said. According to Interfax, Gudkov left Russia by car, through a checkpoint in the Bryansk region.

On June 7, Moscow’s Savelovsky District Court fined Dmitry Gudkov 10,000 rubles ($137) for participating in an unauthorized pro-Navalny rally back in January. Gudkov was charged with a misdemeanor in late April because of a video clip of the protest posted on his Telegram channel. Prior to the hearing, the politician admitted that being fined for participating in an illegal pro-Navalny rally could be used to link him to Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (the FBK), which, in turn, could be used to disqualify him from standing for election to the Russian State Duma on the basis of the recently adopted “anti-FBK law.”

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Story by Olga Korelina

Translated by Eilish Hart


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