Andrei Lugovoi has a trump card: becoming a Duma MP. If Zhirinovsky’s LDPR polls over the 7 percent threshold, which it is expected to do, Lugovoi will gain a seat in Russia’s legislature. Does a legislative seat worry ol’Andrei? What will he do for his constituency? These questions are only secondary when it comes to the seat’s real prize: immunity.
Like many countries, Russia’s elected politicians get immunity from prosecution. And if there’s anyone looking to exploit this legal loophole, Vladimir Zhirinovsky is their man. According to Alexander Kolesnichenko of Russia Profile, these days a LDPR seat runs about $3 million. This is threefold increase from the 1995 election when Zhiri was peddling them for $1 million. Of course, the flamboyant LDPR leader of denies selling Duma seats for the highest bidder. “We never sold anything. We don’t call anyone to join us. Our party activity strictly follows all the world standards.” World standards? Maybe. Political corruption is par for the course for even the world’s most celebrated democracies. But the standards that Zhiri and his ilk more closely follow are the Russian standards of electoral supply and demand.
Next week’s Duma elections should be better seen as a fire sale. About 25 percent of United Russia and Communist Party candidates are mini-oligarchs and selling them immunity is a good way to fill party leaders’ pockets. The price of seats are even set by quasi-market forces. According to Boris Kagarlitsky, the guaranteed seats chosen by party leaders are the most dear, costing up to $3 million. Contested seats, which are subject to votes and have no sure guarantee of victory, are must less. About $1 million will allow you to gamble on those. Any mini-oligarch looking to lock his skeletons in a lock box certainly pines for one of those guaranteed seats. And thus their price goes up. In the end, Russia’s Duma election might just be an example of capitalism’s purest form.
It’s unclear whether Lugovoi had to hand Zhirinovsky a bundle of cash to get on the LDPR list or if it was all a nationalist political stunt on the part of the latter to throw dirt in the West’s face. It was probably a combination of both.
Whatever the terms of Lugovoi’s “appointment,” he appears set on riding his celebrity to victory. In a stump speech in Manturovo, a village about 60 miles outside of Kursk, Lugovoi treated the crowd to a tirade against Britain. He singled out the island nation as responsible for much of Russia woes. He even cited the Crimean War as a historical bridge to connect Britian’s “Anglo-Saxon imperialist” past with its present geopolitical machinations. “If you look at Russian-British relations, the cold war never started and never ended.”
How effective Lugovoi’s Anglophobia was is hard to measure. When the Observer’s Luke Harding put the question to a certain Vladimir Shimankov, a Manturovo resident and Afghan War vet, he said, “In Russia, many strange things happen all the time. Britain is a long way away. But I know [the British] have nice apples.” Maybe once Andrei is immune he can use his English ties to set up special apple imports to the residents of Manturovo. Sans radiation, of course.