Tsukerman on Russia: Duma Defectors

By Slava Tsukerman



<em>Two former members of the State Duma: Denis Voronenkov and his wife, famous opera diva Maria Maksakova.</em>

Two former members of the State Duma: Denis Voronenkov and his wife, famous opera diva Maria Maksakova.


It is recognized that the Russian parliament State Duma usually almost unanimously votes for every Putin’s initiative. The famous Russian TV personality Vladimir Pozner once made on the air a “slip of the tongue” saying “State dura” instead of “State Duma”. “Duma” in Russian means “thinker”, “thinking body”. “Dura” means “stupid”, “fool”. Everybody understood that the slip was intentional, still Pozner wasn’t punished. Punishing him would make the situation even more funny and humiliating for the Duma, because everybody in Russia agreed with Pozner.

So everybody was surprised to learn that recently several members left Duma. One of these cases became a sensation.

In October 2016, the former Communist party representative Denis Voronenkov and his wife, the renown opera singer Maria Maksakova and also a Duma member,  moved to Kiev and became Ukrainian citizens shortly thereafter. The event was noted mostly because of Maksakova who is a real celebrity and the grand daughter of one of the biggest stars in history of Russian opera and the daughter of one of the greatest Russian actresses.

Then, this February, Denis Voronenkov testified against former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office. On February 14, giving an interview to a Ukrainian journalist, Voronenkov compared Russian annexation of Crimea to actions of Nazi Germany. Nobody expected such statements from a former loyal member of Russian parliament.

The Russian government reaction was almost immediate: On March 3, Moscow Court issued an arrest warrant in absentia for Denis Voronenkov, charging him with a large scale fraud. Investigators claim that the ex-lawmaker was involved in a raid aimed at seizing a two-story building in central Moscow in 2011. The allegations were reportedly based on the testimony of a group of people who had been convicted and sentenced in the case. According to the case file, Voronenkov found a buyer for the mansion, for which he received the advance fee in the amount of $100.000. Voronenkov rejects all that accusations, claiming that the criminal prosecution of him had been politically motivated.

Denis Voronenkov has a perfect biography of Russian loyal politician.

He was born April 10, 1971, in the city of Gorky. In 1988, he graduated with honors from the Leningrad Suvorov Military School; in 1995, he graduated with honors and a gold medal from the Military University of the Russian Defense Ministry.

In 2009, he defended his thesis for the degree of Doctor of Legal Sciences on the topic “Theoretical and regulatory basis of judicial control in the mechanism of separation of powers” in the Russian Legal Academy of the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation.

From 1995 to 1999, Voronenkov had been in military service in various positions in the Russian Military Prosecutor’s Office. Since 2000, he was the senior reviewer of the faction apparatus in the State Duma; in 2001 he worked as an advisor to the General Director of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. In 2006, he was awarded the medal “For Distinguished Service in the drug control authorities”.

Since 2011, Voronenkov was a member of the State Duma, serving in the State Duma Committee for Security and Anti-Corruption.

Voronenkov is a co-author of about 20 different bills.

He has two children from a previous marriage. In January 2015, his daughter Xenia became the winner in Moscow Dance Championships among juniors.

Voronenkov had an exciting career, yet, as many other Russian politicians, he was a defendant in several criminal cases. In the early 2000s, Voronenkov was investigated on accusations of bribery. In addition, entrepreneur Anna Atkin accused him of being involved in the murder of her business partner Andrei Burlakov. In 2014, the Investigation Committee was suspecting Voronenkov of being guilty of corporate raid, but, despite its efforts, could not get the Duma member deprived of parliamentary immunity. That is the case that was revitalized now, after political statements made by Voronenkov in Ukraine.

In 2015, Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation accused Voronenkov of embezzlement, as his official salary could hardly allow him to buy five apartments, five cars, and a summer residence.

In March 2015 Voronenkov registered his second marriage with the opera singer, a State Duma member Maria Maksakova. Their wedding was the most extravagant event in the history of State Duma. It made Voronenkov famous in Russia. In April 2016, Maksakova and Voronenkov had their first child.

Representing the pro-Putin United Russia Party in the State Duma, Maksakova was the only Duma’s member that abstained during the vote on the bill forbidding adopting Russian children by Americans.

After originally voting for the Russian LGBT propaganda law in June 2013 Maksakova criticized it in her speech in the Duma in December 2013. She stated the law leads to increased violence against sexual minorities in Russia and that it tarnishes Russia’s reputation abroad. Such behavior was very rare in Duma. Yet she voted for the most anti-democratic Duma initiatives.

Watching a TV interview with this glamorous woman, a member of one of the most brilliant Russian artistic dynasties, I was amazed at her radiation of happiness and serenity.

Unlike his wife, Voronenkov during his terms in Duma, never protested Putin’s politics. On the contrary, he co-authored the 2014 bill that banned the foreign ownership of Russian media, a move Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky called “perhaps the single worst thing that happened to press freedom as an institution in Putin’s Russia.”

How it could happen, that one of the most consistent supporters of Putin’s politics, reversed his political positions the moment he crossed Russian border?

The Daily Beast published a long article devoted to the event. The article is entitled “Russian spy whistleblowers turn on Putin but can they be trusted?”

 “ ‘Americans should realize that Putin and his guys are convinced that he spins the planet with his feet like a soccer ball’, Voronenkov told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview. ‘The FSB cyber forces are quite powerful globally. Now they do not just listen to you (they listened and recorded all my phone calls for eight years). They also attack other states.’”

Voronenkov explained to The Daily Beast reasons for his immigration from Russia:

“ ‘A group of criminals at the FSB offered to let me pay a bribe of $3 million in exchange for closing the case that they fabricated against me,’ Voronenkov said. And he was very specific about the man behind the campaign against him: FSB General Oleg Feoktistov.

“The ex-deputy insisted that he was not an enemy of Russia, that he loved his country, but he wanted to name names in court. After the Russian government ‘stole’ the oil company Yukos in 2003 and imprisoned the man who built it, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ‘ Putin gave the entire team of General Feoktistov a green light to rob and persecute businessmen,’”  Voronenkov told The Daily Beast.

Voronenkov claimed that in 2014 the FSB took over businesses and jailed thousands of people for supposed economic crimes. Vornenkov could see a similar fate awaited him. “ ‘Only 0.5 percent of Russia’s court decisions are acquittals. Even Stalin had 20 percent. Putin’s system feels more like the Nazis’, he said.”

Notorious General Oleg Feoktistov was a central hero of two of the  latest and biggest Russian sensations. Until recently, Feoktistov was considered to be one of the most influential FSB generals in Russia.

In September 2016  Feoktistov, still a general of FSB , became also Vice President and Head of Security of the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft. A month ago the Minister of Economic Development, Alexei Ulyukayev, experienced and loyal to Putin statesman, was arrested and accused of an attempt to receive a bribe. The accusation looked not very believable. It was the first case of arrest of so important a member of the government in Putin’s Russia.

General Oleg Feoktistov played a crucial role in the arrest. In several weeks, on March 8,  Feoktistov was unexpectedly fired from both organizations: Rosneft and FSB. One of readers of Russian Internet commented the news about firing of Feoktistov with a joke: “Now Feoktistov will ask for asylum in Ukraine”.

Neither Russian government sources, nor Russian media presented explanations of Feoktistov’s dismissal. Commentators could only guess what was the cause of it.

Unlike The Daily Beast, Russian commentators don’t ask the question about possibility to trust anyone: be it Voronekov, Maksakova, Ulyukaev or Feoktistov. People in Russia seem to trust nobody. What interest them is not immorality of Russian statesmen, which they take for granted, but the possible influence of today’s events on the future of Russia.

Here are the excerpts from the interview of Dmitry Gudkov to the radio Echo of Moscow (Gudkov was the only representative of the democratic opposition in the State Duma until the last year):

<em>Dmitry Gudkov</em>

Dmitry Gudkov

Interviewer: “Everyone today seems to be shocked by the Ukrainian interview of the former Duma representative Denis Voronenkov. He said that Russia has stolen Crimea and that there is some kind of madness in the country. Was it possible to suspect Voronenkov of such moods, when he was a member of the Sixth Convocation of Duma?”

Gudkov: “In fact, not only Voronenkov, but the great number of the members can be suspected of such sentiments.”

Interviewer: “Are these sentiments so well concealed?”                                       

Gudkov: “I’ve been here on the air many times and, as I have always said, that is exactly what they are saying behind-the-scenes. Behind-the-scenes the members of Duma are protesting against foreign policy, against the isolation of Russia. Everyone understands everything, but when it comes to voting, they are afraid to go against the line of the presidential administration, because everyone knows how it ends up. So this is not news for me …

“Therefore, I assure you that the deeper the crisis, the greater the level of protest sentiments, the more MPs will say such things… This is not a singular case. As a political scientist Valery Solovei said: ‘if you desire, dear ladies and gentlemen, to see the future, look at the deputy Voronenkov’. So it will be…

“Behind-the-scenes discussions do not lead to any explosions. Well, for the time being, until the time will come.”

Interviewer: “And what should happen to make this explosion come?”

Gudkov: “There may be a crisis, there may be a further economic collapse. That may be a decrease in the popularity ratings of the president, of the government and the ruling party. Sooner or later it will happen.”

Updated: March 14, 2017 — 3:59 pm
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