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Russian Duma expels anti-Putin lawmaker. Sign of a coming crackdown?

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"I am a shareholder, but not an active businessman, and there are no legal restrictions on a deputy having this status," Gudkov says. "What is happening to me now is an extrajudicial reprisal. Lawyers say the allegations against me have 'no legal significance.' In other words, they are using this as a pretext to force me out for political reasons."

In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor last June, Gudkov described an escalating campaign aimed at wrecking his reputation and destroying his family's business, and said he'd been told by high Kremlin officials that his problems would all "go away" if he broke off relations with the opposition movement. He said would remain with the protesters, mainly because he felt they needed moderate voices among them to discourage reckless radicalism.

Following Friday's vote, he told the Duma that "I will leave, but will return to help build a new Russia that our children and grandchildren can be proud of.... And this will be soon, very soon."

Many observers say Gudkov's expulsion was almost certainly ordered by Putin, and that it is a sign that the Kremlin may have given up on the soft-authoritarian system of "managed democracy" and is preparing to use more direct repressive means to keep people in line.

"Putin divides all people into supporters and traitors," says Andrei Piontkovsky, an expert at the official Institute of System Analysis and a long time Putin opponent. "Gudkov for him is a double traitor. He left the KGB, and then he left United Russia. What has happened to Gudkov is a clear signal for the entire elite, a warning that any lack of loyalty will be severely punished."

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