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Medvedev's Air Of Invulnerability Dented As Russian Communists Back Corruption Probe

  • Tom Balmforth

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev -- no longer untouchable?

MOSCOW -- Communist lawmakers in Russia are pressing for a parliamentary investigation into possible corruption by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, the latest attack on the former president since a report by opposition forces this month accused him of amassing huge illicit wealth.

Communist Party lawmaker Denis Parfyonov told reporters on March 24 that allegations made against Medvedev by opposition leader and anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny had elicited only "silence" from the authorities.

"Now the silence is working against the government and against the current party of power," said Parfyonov, referring to President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, which holds an overwhelming majority in parliament and is chaired by Medvedev.

Parfyonov and three fellow Communist lawmakers on March 24 submitted a formal request for investigation on the matter in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

Parfyonov was careful to distance his party from Navalny, a leader of large antigovernment protests in Russia during 2011-12 who is seeking to run for president next year in an election that is widely expected to secure a new six-year term for Putin.

"We believe the information deserves attention and demands a rigorous check, regardless of when or by whom it was voiced," he said.

It marked an unusual attack on Medvedev, a close ally of Putin, and also raised eyebrows coming from the Communist Party, the second-largest party in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

Despite being a nominally opposition party, the Communists seldom defy the Kremlin on matters of substance.

Their push for a corruption probe comes as some analysts cast Medvedev as a "lame duck" prime minister with one year until the presidential election. It is unclear whether Putin, after reelection in the planned March 2018 poll, would again select Medvedev as his prime minister.

Earlier this week, Communist lawmaker Valery Rashkin appealed to federal investigators to probe the allegations that Navalny made against Medvedev. In a letter to Investigative Committee chief Aleksandr Bastrykin, Rashkin noted that many Russians were aware of the allegations.

Navalny's video accusing Medvedev of using charities and NGOs to collect large bribes and using the funds to acquire pricey assets has garnered more than 11 million views since it was published on March 2.

Both the Kremlin and Medvedev's spokeswoman have dismissed the allegations.

"The Communists are very careful people," says Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based political analyst. "If they didn't think Medvedev was a lame duck, they would not risk this."

"If they thought this was a member of the tandem" -- a reference to Putin and Medvedev's dual governing arrangement – "and therefore untouchable, then they wouldn't have done this, because they rely on the Kremlin too much," Oreshkin adds.

Medvedev was mocked online this week after Putin, his longtime mentor, said on March 14 that the prime minister had gone down with the flu, apparently explaining why he had missed several government meetings.

Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on March 23, political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said Putin had simply said Medvedev was sick in order to explain his absences. It had not been meant as a putdown to the gadget-loving prime minister, as widely interpreted, he said.

After Medvedev on March 23 denied he had actually been ill, social media poked fun at him for having finally stood up to his powerful patron.

"Medvedev has denied Putin's words about him being sick. It's begun! The premier has accused the president of lying. Medvedev is lighting the fire of revolution!" one Twitter user wrote.

Analysts, however, were skeptical that Medvedev would be removed before December 2017.

"There is an agreement between the prime minister and president, and it seems that Dmitry Medvedev will remain in the prime-minister post until at least December 2017," says Aleksei Mukhin, the well-connected director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Information.

Mukhin is also skeptical that the Communist move will make progress, and suggests it was the brainchild of Rashkin, a lawmaker who, he says, has fallen into "very bad relations" with a raft of influential politicians, including Medvedev.

"Periodically, he comes up with these kinds of initiatives. As a lawmaker, he has the right to do this. It's another matter that practically all these initiatives have had no real consequences," Mukhin says.

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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