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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Expels Critical Deputy

APYermolin complained that United Russia deputies face immense Kremlin pressure.
Anatoly Yermolin, the State Duma deputy who last week complained that he and his colleagues are under enormous pressure from the presidential administration to approve Kremlin-backed legislation, was expelled Tuesday from the United Russia faction for "inappropriate behavior," said Oleg Kovalyov, chairman of the Duma Management Committee.

Yermolin's case was discussed Tuesday morning by the United Russia faction presidium, where most deputies voted for banning Yermolin from the party, Kovalyov said.

"This is a sign that United Russia is not open to any discussion and that it does not like any kind of openness," Yermolin said by telephone Tuesday. "This is why people who dissent from the faction's line run the risk of being expelled."

But Kovalyov denied that Yermolin had been expelled for criticizing the party line.

"Yermolin has never distinguished himself by any legislative initiatives. I thought carefully about his case and I believe that he is a spy of some political forces, such as [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovsky," Kovalyov said, suggesting that Yermolin has ties to embattled oil giant Yukos.

Before being elected a deputy, Yermolin was the director of Yukos' Open Russia foundation. He said Tuesday that he had never tried to hide his link to the organization.

"I'm on good terms with Khodorkovsky, but Yukos is not behind my initiative," Yermolin said.

In a open letter last week to the Prosecutor General's Office, the Constitutional Court and Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, Yermolin said that a senior administration official bluntly told a meeting of 15 United Russia deputies that they should not consider themselves popularly elected representatives of the people. Yermolin and the other deputies were ordered to keep their opinions to themselves and to vote the way they were told, he said.

Yermolin refused to name the official, but media reports have said it was Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin deputy chief of staff who coordinates the Kremlin's work with United Russia and oversees its relations with the Duma.

"This is just a PR stunt with another goal. I know Surkov and I know that he does not behave in such a way," Kovalyov said. "In his letter, Yermolin wrote about a meeting that was held July 6. Why did he wait so long before speaking out? I believe he was waiting for someone to give him orders to do so."

Kovalyov said that among the deputies who attended the meeting with Surkov, Yermolin was the only one to complain.

Yermolin said the meeting with the presidential administration official was simply used as the best way to illustrate the Kremlin's control over the Duma. "It is not important when it happened, it was a good example of how things work," he said.

Yermolin said that after the summer, things got even worse for United Russia deputies. "After the Beslan tragedy, we were asked to be careful with our comments," he said.

"I had to speak out, because I did not want that to be the normal practice in our faction," he said.

Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov, the head of the United Russia cell to which Yermolin belonged, tried to downplay the idea that deputies vote the way they are told to.

For example, he said, deputies Valery Zubov and Konstantin Zatulin voted against the Kremlin-backed bill to scrap the popular vote for governors, which passed a first reading in the Duma on Oct. 29 by a vote of 365 to 64, with four abstentions.

Yermolin said Tuesday that he would soon propose that the Duma set up a commission to investigate "administrative pressure on deputies."