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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Picks Loyalists for Public Chamber

President Vladimir Putin's picks for the Public Chamber, originally proclaimed as a civil society watchdog, so far include Kremlin-friendly figures such as theater director Alexander Kalyagin, Ekspert magazine editor Valery Fadeyev and champion gymnast Alina Kabayeva.

But some well-known human rights activists said they would not participate in the chamber, regardless of whether they received an invitation.

According to law, Putin must name 42 out of the chamber's 126 members, who then select another 42 members from national nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations. These two groups will then choose the final 42 members from regional NGOs.

The Kremlin-sponsored law describes the chamber as a body for citizens to exercise oversight over federal government and parliament, but many NGOs and rights advocates have cast doubt on whether the chamber could be independent.

Valery Fadeyev, editor of Ekspert magazine, confirmed by telephone Wednesday that he had been invited to become a member. Fadeyev also heads the Institute of Public Planning, which co-wrote the chamber law with the Kremlin. "I view the Public Chamber as potentially a very serious institution for the development of democracy in Russia. How effective it turns out to be depends on who will be there," he said.

Kalyagin, head of the Et Cetera Theater company and the national Theater Union, received his invitation recently, his spokeswoman Tatyana Nikolskaya said. She said Kalyagin did not want to comment before being nominated.

Champion gymnast Kabayeva, who is also a member of the United Russia party's supreme council, was asked to join the chamber, her coach Irina Viner said. She said Kabayeva was unavailable for comment, as she was preparing for competitions.

Yelena Zelinskaya, vice president of the Media Union, a pro-Kremlin group, said she also received an invitation. "I'm excited to participate," she said, declining to comment further before being officially nominated.

Another invitee is United Russia member Alexander Shokhin, who is chairman of Renaissance Capital's supervisory board, Vedomosti reported Wednesday. Shokhin was out of the country and could not be reached for comment immediately Wednesday, a Renaissance Capital spokeswoman said.

Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, said the chamber's intended purpose was to create the appearance of oversight, not the reality. He said he had not received an invitation and would not join were he to receive one. "It's simply a shame to join the chamber as it is," he said.

Human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva said she was also critical of the chamber and had not been invited to join, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Wednesday.

Under the law, the chamber can issue recommendations to the government and parliament on key issues of domestic policy, pass judgment on bills, request investigations into what it considers breaches of the law and request information from government agencies. The government is not required to accept any of the chamber's recommendations.

The chamber has to hold at least two sessions per year and publish an annual report on civil society. It can require that one national television channel and one national radio station broadcast at least 60 minutes of news "according to a plan approved by the Public Chamber."

By law, Putin had until Aug. 1 to select his nominees and send them invitations. The nominees were then to have 30 days to respond, after which time Putin can name his nominees. A duty officer at the Kremlin press service said the presidential administration had no comment about the nominations.

Vedomosti said Wednesday that the Kremlin would publish its nominees in a few days, but Nezavisimaya Gazeta said that would not happen until October.

Kalyagin and Kabayeva were among 50 public figures who signed an open letter in June protesting criticism of the judicial system over the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the letter might have been the Kremlin's litmus test for the candidates considered for the chamber.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said the Kremlin was creating the chamber with the sole purpose of having it suggest that Putin run for a third term in office.

Antonio Lupher contributed to this report.