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Embattled Duma Deputy Hops On Patriotic Bandwagon With Gaming Bill

Many see the bill as an opportunity for the Volgograd native and construction magnate to restore his own reputation after a wave of political scandals.
A lawmaker in Russia's State Duma has submitted a bill aimed at punishing video gamers for undermining military veterans or the authority of the any Russian ruler stretching back to the time of Peter the Great.

The bill, submitted on March 25 by Oleg Mikheyev, a deputy from A Just Russia, formally envisions fines of up to half a million rubles ($14,000) for the "dissemination of false information that impugns either the merits of those who died defending the Fatherland or the authority of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, and its armed forces."

More specifically, the legislation seeks to punish video games with what Mikheyev calls a "fascist orientation," like "Soldiers: Heroes of WWII," which allows players to command Nazi troops, and "Maidan," an online strategy game based on Kyiv's recent street protests, which Moscow has blamed on Ukrainian nationalists with an anti-Russian bent.

Mikheyev's bill comes amid a surge of patriotic sentiment in Russia, whose armed takeover of Crimea has been met with a flurry of flag-waving, nationalist rhetoric, and the return of the historic orange-and-black St. George ribbon, symbolizing military victory, worn by many World War II veterans.

Seizing The Opportunity

But not all Duma members are convinced that Mikheyev's bill -- his 324th in just over two years, and not even the most recent one he's submitted this week -- is an honest effort to bolster patriotic sentiment. Rather, they see it as an opportunity for the Volgograd native and construction magnate to restore his own reputation after a wave of political scandals.

Early this year, Mikheyev was stripped of his parliamentary immunity after prosecutors claimed he had used his political post to gain contracts for his Diamant Development Group. In 2012, he was accused of owing $28 million in tax arrears and banking debts.

Even more notoriously, Mikheyev made headlines in 2011 when he came to a colleague's wedding dressed as German Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Nazi's military intelligence service, the Abwehr.

Mikheyev denied his outfit was a copy of Canaris's, and threatened to sue the news outlet that published an article about his attire. But his image as a closet Nazi fan stuck, and since then, he has frequently sought to portray himself as an antifascist crusader -- as with the new antigaming bill.

Duma Deputy Robert Schlegel, a member of the United Russia ruling party, expressed skepticism at Mikheyev's attack on video games, telling "Vzglyad" he didn't believe his colleague was a "professional gamer."

He added, "Mikheyev comes up with original initiatives very often, and very often they're just an opportunity to call attention to himself."