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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Last Day for an Obedient Duma

When the State Duma holds its final session Friday, it will leave behind a legacy of Kremlin-sponsored laws that have pushed political dissent to the brink of extinction.

Yet when Boris Gryzlov, the Duma speaker, sums up the past four years in a speech at the end of Friday's session, he will almost certainly instead focus on the chamber's contribution toward political stability and fostering economic growth.

In a closing ceremony, Gryzlov will also decorate several deputies who earned state awards in recent months and accompany the outgoing lawmakers for a group photograph.

In passing key legislation, the United Russia-dominated Duma has rubber-stamped proposals from the Kremlin and the Cabinet but has never rejected or criticized any of them fundamentally. These laws include measures that have made it harder for small parties to win seats in the chamber, abolished popular elections for governors and complicated the rules for holding referendums.

Other memorable legislation has tightened bureaucratic control over nongovernmental organizations, replaced Soviet-era benefits with cash payments and set up various state corporations to oversee spending in specific industries or projects, such as the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Duma's strict adherence to Kremlin policies draws contempt from one of the few dissident voices left in the chamber.

"All it does is to limp humbly behind the presidential administration and the Cabinet," said Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of only a handful of independent deputies left in the Duma. "It's a parliament that totally lacks willpower and initiative."

United Russia defends its track record, saying its teamwork with the Kremlin has brought stability that has improved the economy.

"This consolidation has had an enormous effect on our economy," said Andrei Vorobyov, who heads United Russia's central executive committee, in faxed replies to questions. "Our coordinated work with the government has brought success to the country."

Among the Duma's achievements are its passing of measures to establish the Investment Fund, the Development Bank, the Venture Corporation and the housing fund, which together are designed to upgrade the country's roads, homes and high-tech industries, Vorobyov said. Its political bills encouraged the growth of civil society and enhanced the role of parties, he said.

President Vladimir Putin, who is leading United Russia's ticket in the Duma elections next month, thanked the party's faction for supporting his policies on a trip to Krasnoyarsk on Tuesday. "In my practical activity I relied upon United Russia in the parliament because there was a consolidated force that helped me not only make decisions, but also put them into practice," he said.

United Russia's Duma opponents Duma said the faction's overwhelming majority made debate pointless. "The Duma has a monopoly of one faction, one point of view and it's quite an aggressive monopoly," said Oleg Kulikov, a Communist deputy. "It doesn't provide for any debate. You can have a law passed in three readings in a single day."

But United Russia's Vorobyov said a lack of debate in the chamber was not a problem, as bills always underwent "very vivid" discussion in the media.

The Communists, who have just 47 deputies compared with United Russia's faction of 299 deputies, were blocked from pushing through their proposals, such as increasing family allowance payments to parents and reintroducing a progressive income tax, Kulikov said.

Of the bills that the Duma has passed and Putin has signed into law, the Communists have in fact sponsored several bills -- albeit relatively minor ones -- but they did so jointly with members of United Russia and other factions. One such proposal was a bill that allowed state pipeline monopoly Transneft to have its own armed security service.

Vorobyov countered that United Russia had sought to prevent populism by imposing its will on the Duma. "One can easily remember that 10 years ago ... the parliament was adopting one populist bill after another without considering the ramifications," he said. "We take responsibility and do not allow such a light-minded approach or selfish lobbyism anymore."

On the other hand, United Russia deputies have not always managed to get their proposals passed. For example, prominent lawmakers Oleg Morozov and Artur Chilingarov had their legislation, calling for further restrictions on smoking, thrown out in October because it didn't comply with the Constitution.

The Duma's occasional attempts to influence the government have produced only a vague impression of independence, Ryzhkov said, referring to the parliamentary investigation of the 2004 attack on Beslan. A panel comprised of Duma deputies and Federation Council members came up with conclusions that essentially rehashed statements by federal prosecutors, he said.

The Duma agreed to Ryzhkov's proposal to look into violent police measures to break up opposition marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg earlier this year but stopped short of ordering a full parliamentary investigation by a commission. Instead, deputies set up a less powerful working group that later quietly stopped working and reported no findings, Ryzhkov said.

"We were able to stir up this swamp of a parliament, but the forces were not equal," Ryzhkov said.