A 56-year-old former KGB agent -- and still a colonel in the reserves of the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- seems like an unlikely face of Russia's political opposition.
But that is just what Gennady Gudkov, a State Duma deputy with the left-leaning A Just Russia party, has become. Since the December 2011 Duma elections and, particularly, since the March 2012 presidential vote -- both of which Gudkov argues were grossly falsified in favor of Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party -- he has become an increasingly strident critic of the Kremlin
Now he faces a showdown, as the Prosecutor-General's Office on September 3 sent to the Duma a request that the legislature strip Gudkov of his mandate because of alleged commercial activities that are incompatible with his status as a deputy.
"The Russian Investigative Committee has sent additional materials to the State Duma regarding, in particular, [Gudkov's] involvement in the management of a private security firm called the Pantan Security Agency through commercial organizations under his control," committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said.
But Gudkov, speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service on September 1, rejected the charges, saying that although he owned shares in the company, he did not participate in its management.
Gudkov said the push against him stemmed from a direct order from the Kremlin to remove his mandate before the opposition's next national political rally -- under the March of Millions slogan -- planned for September 15. Gudkov is an organizer of the unsanctioned demonstration and is expected to speak at the rally in Moscow.
Gudkov said he believed the United Russia majority in the Duma would ramrod through a motion based on the prosecutor's request during its session on September 12.
"I am completely convinced that the date September 12 is completely logical from the point of view of our government servants, since they think that it is necessary to 'shut down' Gudkov and the rest of the opposition, evidently, on September 15-16. I am using the kind of language that they use," Gudkov said.
"Deputy Gudkov's mandate is a big obstacle to them in this process. They need to find a way to take away that mandate on September 12; otherwise it is unclear how they will be able to arrest the leaders of the opposition or those who speak at that rally."
Gudkov added that he was not optimistic about his prospects when the vote is taken. "I definitely expect a biased political decision because I know for a fact that a command has come down from the Kremlin to remove Gudkov's mandate by any means," he said.
On The Attack
Nonetheless, Gudkov remains defiant. He said he had sent letters to 50 United Russia deputies for whom he has "respect on a personal level," urging them not to vote for "an extrajudicial political lynching." Although some ruling-party lawmakers, including Aleksandr Khinshtein, have said they will not vote to remove Gudkov, such a mass lapse in United Russia party discipline would be unprecedented.
Almost as soon as the Investigative Committee submitted its new documentation to the Duma on September 3, United Russia leaders in the Duma went on the attack.
Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Neverov told journalists he believed Gudkov's business interests constituted a conflict of interest. "You have to decide for yourself: either you're actively involved in business or you are elected to the State Duma and become limited in this regard," he said.
United Russia Duma faction leader Andrei Vorobyov echoed the sentiment the same day, saying, "Nobody who is vested with authority in our country is allowed to be directly involved in business."
'They Are The Traitors'
Gudkov, a former KGB foreign counterintelligence officer who left active duty in 1992, particularly bristles at United Russia accusations that he is a "traitor" for supporting the anti-Putin opposition.
"They have no right at all to consider anyone a traitor or not a traitor. They are the ones who betrayed the secret services. They are the ones who betrayed the principles of those services. They are the ones who destroyed them and turned their agencies into commercial structures," he said.
"They are the ones who today are brazenly forcing officers of the special services to violate the laws on investigative activity, the Constitution of Russia, which guarantees freedom of private communication. They are the ones who force officers of the Federal Security Service to use the entire arsenal of methods that have been given them to protect the state against serious threats, to use them against the opposition," Gudkov continued.
"They are traitors. They are traitors because they have betrayed all the principles that have to operate in any normal, civilized country."
Former Federation Council Chairman and A Just Russia party founder Sergei Mironov says the party will fight to support Gudkov. In an interview with Russian television, Mironov said he believed United Russia did not have the right to revoke the mandate of an elected deputy but that with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, a party headed by nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky that routinely votes with United Russia, they would do so.
And, like Gudkov, Mironov said he was certain that the prosecutors and the ruling-party lawmakers were acting at the behest of the Kremlin. "We understand perfectly well that the gentlemen from United Russia never do anything at all without an order from above," he said.