Vladimir Pekhtin is a quintessential loyal foot soldier of Vladimir Putin’s regime, having served as one of the leaders of the ruling Unity/United Russia party in Parliament since 2000. He has backed the laws labeling NGOs as “foreign agents” and banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans, called former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a “traitor” for having declared perestroika, and cheered the abolition of gubernatorial elections and the prison sentence for Mikhail Khodorkovsky. As chairman of the State Duma commission on ethics, Pekhtin was especially concerned about foreign influence on Russian political life, and has co-sponsored a bill that would ban Russian officials from owning any property or assets abroad.
Seasoned Kremlin-watchers—long used to the hypocrisy of the current Russian regime—were not too surprised, however, when it was discovered that Pekhtin and his son own luxury real estate in Miami Beach, Florida, worth more than $2 million—none of it listed in Pekhtin’s official declarations. The revelation, concerning Pekhtin’s property in Flamingo South Beach, Ocean Drive, and Ormond Beach, was made this week by anticorruption campaigner Alexei Navalny on the basis of information from open US databases. “It is clear that he chose [America] … because it is safe, because it has a working justice system and police, and because it has no United Russia party,” Navalny noted. “But he forgot that it also has such things as transparency, public accountability, and local self-government.”
Pekhtin’s attempts to exonerate himself became in instant hit: in an interview with the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper, the chairman of the Duma ethics commission stated that he has “practically nothing” in the way of property abroad. Russia’s blogosphere erupted with sarcastic responses, ranging from “Khodorkovsky is practically free” to “Russian elections are practically honest.” For several days, “#practically” was one of the most popular hashtags on Russian Twitter.
This is not the first revelation of its kind—just last month, it was discovered that Alexander Sidyakin, the chief sponsor of the “foreign agents law,” spent his winter vacation in Florida (could it have been at Pekhtin’s luxurious seaside apartment?). More news could be on the way—Russian bloggers are hinting at US property that may belong to Senator Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Parliament’s upper house. Margelov’s response was almost as good as Pekhtin’s—he told RIA Novosti that he does not own “a multitude of apartments in the US.”
United Russia is living up to its popular nickname of “party of crooks and thieves”—that is not surprising. What is surprising—and telling—is how much Russia’s civil society has strengthened since the start of the mass antigovernment protests in December 2011. On Wednesday, Vladimir Pekhtin has asked to be suspended from his post as chairman of the Duma ethics commission, pending an investigation into his “alleged US property.” A (brief) news report on the matter was broadcast on Channel One television. The regime may still be stronger than civil society. But it can no longer ignore it.
Photo Credit: Bogomolov.PL