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Dmitry Gudkov
Image: Alexandra Indukhowa/DW

Dmitry Gudkov: 'We have a choice between exile and jaiI'

Alexandra Induchova
June 13, 2021

The Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov was forced to flee his country last week. Speaking from his exile in the Ukrainian capital, he told DW why.


The Russian authorities are intensifying their pressure on opposition politicians and activists and the upcoming elections are going to be an "election without a choice," according to former member of the State Duma Dmitry Gudkov, who was forced to leave Russia last week.

On June 1, his dacha in the outskirts of Moscow was searched and he was detained for two days. On June 6, he announced on his Telegram channel that he had fled to Ukraine after being accused of "trumped up charges."

"Several sources close to the presidential administration said that if I do not leave the country, the fake criminal case will continue until my arrest," he said at the time.

DW spoke to Gudkov in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

DW: Mr. Gudkov, you have always been considered a moderate opposition politician. Why have the authorities homed in on you now?

Dmitry Gudkov: The main reason is the elections to the State Duma. The Kremlin has decided that all opposition candidates that could win should either be pressured to leave the country or be arrested so that various suspended sentences prevent them from running. A hard scenario was opted for in my case. It would have been possible to find a simpler way exclude me from the elections.

Russian State Duma
Russia's parliamentary elections are due in SeptemberImage: Dmitry Astakhov/POOL/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

However, this is not only about the legislative elections, but also about the presidential elections of 2024. The state powers are trying to get rid of politicians who are over 45, i.e., old enough to become president. The State Duma could become a platform for them, and they could then take part in the presidential elections. Moderate politicians are dangerous for the Kremlin because they can facilitate a dialogue between elites, who might sometime choose to participate in a struggle for change.

Interview with Dmitri Gudkov

At what level was the decision made to go after you? Was it done at the behest of President Vladimir Putin?

I'm sure that it was recommended to him. Otherwise, no such measure would have been taken. He was probably informed of (Former Duma legislator and father of Dmitry) Gennady Gudkov, and business violations of his which I was supposedly directly implicated in. Complete nonsense! When the case caused a stir, it became clear that there was no reference to me at all and no procedure. Nothing! I've never been interested in business and never got involved.

Alexei Navalny was poisoned and is now behind bars, like many of his collaborators. Why were you given the chance to leave the country?

Navalny was also given the chance to leave the country. He was allowed to travel to Germany. In fact, the state powers have an interest in our going. They do not want a big number of political prisoners. Because at every meeting, Joe Biden or someone else, asks about Navalny, mentions repression and human rights. It's easier if everyone leaves. 

Yulia Galyamina, a parliamentary candidate, was given a suspended sentence, which prohibits her from leaving the country by law. But she was also given a six-month reprieve, during which the restrictions had not yet taken effect, and the intention was to force her to leave. People are given a choice: Either leave the country or go to prison. They have to choose between family and freedom or prison.

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny
Alexey Navalny is one of many opposition politicians behind barsImage: Babuskinsky District Court/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Why did you leave Russia?

When I was in police custody, I thought I'd be there for a long time. When I was released, I asked myself three simple questions: Am I willing to risk not only my freedom, but that of my aunt, relatives, supporters, allies, and the people in my team? I realized that I was not willing to sacrifice the health of my loved ones. I am willing to suffer, but am I willing to let my aunt, my mother's sister, my brother suffer? No, I am not willing to do that.

The second question: If I land in jail, will that have an effect on the country? Will Putin stand down or will masses of people go out onto the streets? Will it lead to protests and change? No.

And the third question: Where can I work effectively? What does politics in Russia mean? It used to be participation in elections, which is now impossible. It was the preparation and carrying out of protests and actions, which is now impossible. There are now prison sentences even when people conduct vigils for individuals.

What is still possible is journalism, support of political prisoners and independent media. All of that can be done all over the world. This is the 21st century. It does not matter where you are. What is important is where your voice is heard. And it is heard because of the internet and social media.

You say that you have left Russia temporarily. When do you want to return?

There are two important factors: Effectiveness and risk. Can I work effectively if I go back? Will there still be risks for my relatives? I cannot get them all out of the country. My aunt and uncle do not want to leave. As soon as these factors change, I want to go back of course. I am aware that a dictatorship like the one in Russia can be dangerous everywhere. That was clear from the Skripal case (Editor's note: The former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in the British town of Salisbury in 2018). Russia has to be modernized and transformed into a normal democratic state based on the rule of law otherwise the whole world will suffer the consequences.

Dmitry Gudkov, 41, is a Russian opposition politician and a former deputy for A Just Russia, from which he was expelled after being elected to the Opposition Coordination Council. In 2014, he was one of four deputies that did not approve the annexation of the Crimea. At the beginning of 2021, he announced that he intended to run for the Russian parliament again.

Alexandra Induchova conducted this interview.

This article was translated from German.


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