Russian council faces dissolution after call for Putin’s removal

Russian council faces dissolution after call for Putin’s removal

Member of the Smolninskoye municipality council Dmitry Palyuga, who was fined for public activity aimed at discrediting the Russian authorities amid Russia-Ukraine conflict, reacts inside a court building after a hearing in Saint Petersburg, Russia September 13, 2022. REUTERS/REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER

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  • Local councillors demanded Putin be removed for ‘treason’
  • One member fined $780 for discrediting authorities
  • Rare act of public dissent by elected deputies

Sept 13 (Reuters) – A group of St Petersburg local politicians who called for President Vladimir Putin to be sacked over the war in Ukraine faces the likely dissolution of their district council following a judge’s ruling on Tuesday, one of the deputies said.

Nikita Yuferev said the judge decided that a series of past council meetings had been invalid, paving the way for it to be broken up by the regional governor.

Another council member, Dmitry Palyuga, said the same court then fined him 47,000 roubles ($780) for “discrediting” the authorities by calling for Putin’s removal. For comment, court officials could not reach them by telephone.

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Four more members of the Smolninskoye local council are due to appear in court in the next two days.

Last week, a group of deputies from the council appealed to the State Duma to bring charges of state treason against Putin and strip him of power, citing a series of reasons including Russia’s military losses in Ukraine and the damage to its economy from Western sanctions.

Another local deputy said 65 municipal representatives from St Petersburg, Moscow and several other regions had signed a petition she published on Monday calling for Putin’s resignation.

While posing no current threat to Putin’s grip on power, the moves mark rare expressions of dissent by elected representatives at a time when Russians risk heavy prison sentences for “discrediting” the armed forces or spreading “deliberately false information” about them. read more

Palyuga told Reuters before Tuesday’s hearing that the group’s appeals were aimed not only at liberal Russians but also at “people loyal to the authorities who are starting to have doubts when they see the lack of success of the Russian army”.

He said he expected the numbers of such people to increase after last week’s lightning counter-offensive in which Ukraine drove Russian forces out of dozens of towns and recaptured a large swathe of territory in its northeast Kharkiv region. read more

“Of course, what is happening now has successfully coincided with our agenda. Many people who loved Putin are feeling betrayed. He said that he believes the Ukrainian army will be more successful the more people like him.

‘VERY, VERY THIN’ LINE

Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said the greater risk to the Kremlin lay not in the councillors’ protest itself but in the danger of responding too harshly to it.

“The reaction, or overreaction, may cause more political damage to the regime than this petition. Stanovaya, the founder of R.Politik, said that she has no doubts that the petition’s signers will be subject to political pressure.

Thousands of legal cases have been launched against people accused of discrediting the army, usually leading to fines for first-time offences, but a Moscow district councillor was jailed for seven years in July after being convicted of spreading false information. Other journalists and opposition figures were also charged and could face prison sentences. [ read more

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that critical points of view were tolerated, within the limits of the law. He said, “As long they remain within the law. This is pluralism. But the line is very thin. One must be very careful here.” read more

Ksenia Thorstrom, a St Petersburg local councillor who published Monday’s petition calling for Putin’s resignation, said it was too early to say how the campaign would turn out.

“To call for a politician to resign is absolutely normal. She told Reuters that there is nothing criminal about it.

“Of course there is a certain risk, but to show solidarity with our colleagues – independent politicians who still remain in Russia – is much more important. “

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Additional reporting by Filipp Lebedev; Editing by Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Mark Trevelyan

Thomson Reuters

Chief writer on Russia and CIS. Worked as a journalist on 7 continents and reported from 40 countries, with postings in London, Wellington, Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin. Covered the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Security correspondent from 2003 to 2008. Fluent in French, Russian, and (rusty) German.

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