Representatives of the State Duma’s two leading centrist factions, Unity and Fatherland-Al Russia, and the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) last week asked the Duma’s committee on procedures to initiate a vote on dismissing Gennady Seleznev as the lower parliamentary chamber’s speaker. Earlier, the Duma’s four centrist factions had voted to rob Seleznev of his deciding vote on the Duma’s Council, which determines the chamber’s agenda.

The moves against Seleznev, who has been the Duma’s speaker since 1996, seemed, on the one hand, somewhat strange. While he remains a top official in the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, or KPRF (following a trip to North Korea in the mid-1990s, Seleznev insisted that people there were eating grass not because they were starving but because “their culture is higher than ours on that point”), he has, much to the dismay of some of his more orthodox party comrades, “grown in office.” In fact, Seleznev has largely supported President Vladimir Putin in the lower house of parliament and in 2000 even launched a pro-Putin “center-left” organization called Rossiya.

That organization, however, remained largely on paper, and while the centrists have denied either coordinating their anti-Seleznev actions with the Kremlin or even wanting to oust him as speaker, there can be little doubt that someone on high gave them the nod to move against him. It is possible that the Kremlin does not want to remove Seleznev as speaker but is simply using the threat against him in order to force the KPRF to give up various committee chairmanships and other top Duma posts, which the Communists won at the start of 2000 after cutting a deal with Unity and other pro-Putin centrist factions.

The most tantalizing moment in the Seleznev affair came when one of those leading the attack against him, Gennady Raikov, alleged that a “structure” controlled by the Duma speaker had sent letters to businessmen offering legal services for a fee, then threatened those who said they did not require such services with unspecified consequences if they refused to make the payments. Raikov suggested that the Prosecutor General’s Office might have to be brought in to investigate.