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Russian Duma expels anti-Putin lawmaker. Sign of a coming crackdown?

Russia's legislative body ousted dissident lawmaker Gennady Gudkov today, just a day before thousands of Russians are expected to take to the streets to protest against Vladimir Putin's rule.

By Correspondent / September 14, 2012

Russian opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov, speaks to the media in front of his office inside the State Duma, the lower parliament chamber, in Moscow, Friday, Sept. 14. The former KGB colonel turned opposition lawmaker who has angered the Kremlin with his scathing criticism and involvement in street protests against President Vladimir Putin was stripped of his parliament seat on Friday.

Mikhail Metzel/AP

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Moscow

In a nearly unprecedented action, the pro-Kremlin majority in Russia's State Duma voted to strip dissident lawmaker Gennady Gudkov of his parliamentary mandate Friday. The move – just a day before thousands of Russians are expected to return to the streets of Moscow to protest against Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule – is seen by many as part of a wider crackdown to warn of the consequences for participating in the nearly 10-month-old opposition movement.

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Mr. Gudkov is a former KGB colonel who broke with Mr. Putin's United Russia party five years ago to join the center-left Just Russia party, and recently became a strong supporter of the anti-Putin protest movement. He was accused by the Duma majority of engaging in commercial activities – which is illegal for Duma members while in office – and his case was rushed through this week, culminating in a 291-150 vote to expel him in the 450-seat lower house of parliament Friday. He denies the allegations, and warns that he may be just the first of several opposition-minded deputies slated to face the revenge of the pro-Putin majority.

"I am a shareholder, but not an active businessman, and there are no legal restrictions on a deputy having this status," Gudkov says. "What is happening to me now is an extrajudicial reprisal. Lawyers say the allegations against me have 'no legal significance.' In other words, they are using this as a pretext to force me out for political reasons."

In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor last June, Gudkov described an escalating campaign aimed at wrecking his reputation and destroying his family's business, and said he'd been told by high Kremlin officials that his problems would all "go away" if he broke off relations with the opposition movement. He said would remain with the protesters, mainly because he felt they needed moderate voices among them to discourage reckless radicalism.

Following Friday's vote, he told the Duma that "I will leave, but will return to help build a new Russia that our children and grandchildren can be proud of.... And this will be soon, very soon."

Many observers say Gudkov's expulsion was almost certainly ordered by Putin, and that it is a sign that the Kremlin may have given up on the soft-authoritarian system of "managed democracy" and is preparing to use more direct repressive means to keep people in line.

"Putin divides all people into supporters and traitors," says Andrei Piontkovsky, an expert at the official Institute of System Analysis and a long time Putin opponent. "Gudkov for him is a double traitor. He left the KGB, and then he left United Russia. What has happened to Gudkov is a clear signal for the entire elite, a warning that any lack of loyalty will be severely punished."

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