After being briefly detained by police last week, an opposition politician and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin has fled Russia. Dmitry Gudkov claimed that a month before his arrest, he was warned that if he decided to run for a seat in the country’s parliament as planned, he would “see a criminal case against some of your relatives.”
Gudkov, who previously served in Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, from 2011 to 2016, was running for re-election this fall when he was arrested on June 1. In a phone interview from Kyiv, Ukraine, where he fled on Sunday, he said he believed Russian authorities were attempting to deter his “presidential ambitions.”
Gudkov was detained for two days and claimed that, in addition to his arrest, police raided 14 of his relatives’ homes. According to the state-owned Russian news agency TASS, the police were looking into approximately $13,000 in unpaid rent allegedly owed by Gudkov’s aunt. According to the outlet, Gudkov faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the charge.
Since the arrest of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in January, at least six prominent Kremlin critics have either been imprisoned or fled the country. A Moscow court is considering classifying Navalny’s political organization as a “extremist” organization on par with ISIS or al Qaeda.
His foundation has already been closed in anticipation of the court’s decision.
Gudkov, who was elected to the Kremlin-aligned “Just Russia” party in 2013, was expelled for assisting in the organization of anti-Putin protests, and he has since become a prominent anti-Kremlin voice. His arrest came the day after another prominent activist, Andrei Pivovarov, was detained and arrested on a plane.
Gudkov stated that he believed his arrest was intended to discourage him from running for office again. He claimed he was unaware of the unpaid rent issue prior to his arrest and had never worked for his aunt’s company. He claimed that he had spent his entire career in politics. “I was warned a month ago that if you run for parliament, you will face criminal charges against some of your relatives, and I couldn’t figure out who the target was. I didn’t think they’d be able to arrest my auntie, who is 68 and not involved in politics “Gudkov stated to reporters.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, told reporters this week that he hadn’t been following Gudkov’s case and that President Putin isn’t concerned about politicians leaving the country due to criminal prosecution.
“No way, no how. If this is a legal departure from the country, then any citizen can easily leave the country, return, or not return if they have no encumbrances or restrictions. This is a completely free procedure “Peskov stated.
He claimed he fled with his brother, driving more than 500 miles from Moscow to Kyiv shortly after being released from police custody. He claims the Kremlin wanted him to leave the country.
“They talked to my father and my wife, and they said that if Dmitry stays in Russia, law enforcement will open new investigations and target my relatives,” Gudkov explained. “My auntie will be sent to prison. My brother can be also in dangerous situation. So unfortunately they can be held… hostage.”
Gudkov said he plans to settle with relatives in Bulgaria for the time being, and he’s not sure when or if he’ll return to Russia.
“I’d like to return. Of course, I want to return, but there are two factors to consider: risks and threats, as well as the possibility of being effective in the country, supporting independent journalists and political prisoners. Perhaps it is more efficient to conduct these activities outside of Russia “Gudkov stated. “I need to think about it, talk about it with my allies, talk about it with some smart people who are also out of the country, and we need to think about the future of political protest.”