The so-called Russian Congress of People’s Deputies opened last week in Poland, bringing together disparate Russian opposition politicians. The congress’s main aim was to establish a basis for rebuilding Russia in the post-Putin era — but it was poorly-attended and more dominated by arguments than constructive suggestions for the future.
- The Congress of People’s Deputiesbrings together Russian opposition politicians who have enjoyed electoral success in the past. According to the participants, the Congress’s main aim is to establish a basis from which to “reconstitute” Russia after a change of regime.
- Among other decisions, they announced the creation of a legitimate government in exile, agreed on the rights of nations to self-determination and spoke of moving the country toward free and fair elections.
- A total of 60 delegates registered for the Congress, but in reality barely half that number took part. Thus, there were only 21 delegates in the hall, and a further 11 online, to ratify the founding document. One delegate voted against.
- Former Russian lawmaker and ex-security services officer Gennady Gudkov chaired the proceedings. But the real power lies with Ilya Ponomaryov, who was deputy in the State Duma from 2007 to 2014. Before becoming a deputy, Ponomaryov was a senior manager at a major Russian oil company and, in his youth, he was a member of the Communist Party. In 2014, he was the only deputy to vote against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. After that, he emigrated to Ukraine and became a Ukrainian citizen. Working with a U.S. company in Ukraine, he traded commodities andunsuccessfully attempted to win the rights to drill for Black Sea gas.
- Today, Ponomaryov is one of the most prominent figures in Russia’s exiled opposition. For example, he took part in the Russian Anti-War Committee, where opposition leaders proposed the creation of a so-called “good Russian” passport, which was intended to ease the lives of exiled Russian anti-war activists. But the idea was scrapped after fierce criticism.
- In addition the Congress of People’s Deputies was marred by arguments over Nina Belyayeva, a participant who accused Ponomaryov of interfering in post-war proposals she had drafted and not paying her for work. Belyayeva also accused organizers of muting her connection, meaning she was unable to speak.
- Critics of the gathering included an independent group of Russian anti-war activists in Poland. The group accused its organizers of seeking “false legitimacy,” and pointed out many opposition politicians in Russia were never allowed to participate in elections. “Firstly, therefore, we doubt that the members of this ‘Congress’ would have won a fair election; second, we believe that in the years since their election, their appeal to the electorate has changed,” the association said in a statement.
Why the world should care
Several forums, conferences and gatherings of exiled anti-war Russians have taken place since the invasion of Ukraine. But they have all descended into squabbling as other activists question their legitimacy — and ask who exactly they are representing.