Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 59

The main centrist factions in the State Duma have launched an effort to remove Gennady Seleznev as the lower parliamentary chamber’s speaker. The moves against Seleznev, who is a member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), began last week when the Duma’s pro-Kremlin centrist coalition, made up of four factions–Unity, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR), People’s Deputy and Russia’s Regions–voted to rob Seleznev of his deciding vote on the Duma’s Council, which determines the chamber’s agenda (Vremya Novostei, March 21). Then, on Friday (March 22), Vladimir Pekhtin, head of the Unity faction, Farida Gainullina, deputy head of the OVR’s faction, and Boris Nadezhdin, first deputy chief of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), submitted a request to the Duma’s committee on procedures to initiate a vote on dismissing Seleznev as speaker (Moscow Times, March 25).

One of Seleznev’s main attackers, Gennady Raikov, head of the People’s Deputy faction, leveled a serious accusation against the incumbent speaker, one involving possible criminal activities. Raikov said that he had sent an official letter to the Duma’s procedures committee involving an entity called the Experts Council under the Duma Chairman, one of “many different councils and other structures” under the speaker’s control, Raikov claimed. That body allegedly sent letters to various businessmen offering legal services for a fee, then threatened those businessmen who said they did not require such services with unspecified consequences if they refused to make the payments. Raikov said it was possible that Seleznev himself did not know about these forced payments but that “a political party” might have collected money this way–an apparent reference to the KPRF. Raikov called the allegations “a real bomb” underneath the Duma chairman and suggested that the Prosecutor General’s Office would have to be brought in to investigate (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 25).

What remains unclear is whether President Vladimir Putin or members of his administration are behind the moves against Seleznev. Raikov, for one, said that he had not consulted with the Kremlin concerning Seleznev, adding that the presidential administration was unable “to completely influence the Duma.” Aleksandr Kotenkov, Putin’s representative in the Duma, even spoke negatively about the possibility of replacing Seleznev, saying that it would “destabilize the Duma’s work,” but adding that such issues were the Duma’s own internal affair (Polit.ru, March 22). Another Putin ally, Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov, said he did not know who was behind the push to unseat Seleznev, but said it was the wrong move at the wrong time and praised the incumbent speaker as “an experienced speaker and a knowledgeable statesman” (Interfax, March 24). Still another leading pro-Putin figure, Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin, suggested that Seleznev might remain in his post if he agreed to quit the Duma’s KPRF faction (Regions.ru, March 22). Seleznev, for his part, said yesterday that he has absolutely no plans to quit the KPRF faction or the party, calling such suggestions “laughable” (Polit.ru, March 24). He charged over the weekend that the efforts to oust him as speaker were part of a political campaign against him and promised to “uncover” who was behind it (Moscow Times, March 25). Still, despite the murkiness surrounding the attacks on Seleznev, it is difficult to believe that the centrist factions in the Duma would move against him without at least the Kremlin’s tacit approval, and it is already a hallmark of the Putin administration’s style to have its proxies move against political foes while denying involvement in such actions.

Meanwhile, one media report cited an unnamed “authoritative” source from within the centrist Duma factions as saying that Aleksandr Zhukov, head of the Duma’s budget committee and a member of the Russia’s Regions faction, was likely to succeed Seleznev (KMnews, March 22). Another press report, however, noted that the Kremlin would be unlikely to replace Seleznev–who, to the dismay of some of his KPRF comrades, has himself been quite supportive of Putin–unless it was “someone utterly loyal to the Kremlin.” According to this report, Zhukov–who is said to have close ties with Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko, which is highly critical of the Kremlin on some issues–is “all too fiercely independent.” Thus Seleznev is more likely to be replaced by either Unity’s Pekhtin or Vyacheslav Volodin, head of the OVR faction (Novye Izvestia, March 22). But today Volodin denied that the leadership of United Russia, the new party that includes Unity and OVR, had taken a decision to replace Seleznev (Polit.ru, March 25).

It is indeed possible that the moves against Seleznev are not aimed at ousting him but at overturning the deal struck between the centrist factions and the KPRF at the start of 2000, when they divided up most of the Duma’s committee chairmanships and other top posts between them (Moscow Times, March 25). In any case, if there is indeed an attempt made to remove Seleznev, most observers agree it is likely to take place in early April.