Politics 8 November 2021

Top Communist detained after dismembered elk found in trunk

Senior Communist Party official and parliamentary deputy Valery Rashkin could face up to two years in jail for poaching after being detained last month with the carcass of an elk in the trunk of his car. Rashkin, one of the most anti-Kremlin voices in Communist Party, said he was set-up.

  • Police were reportedly alerted 29 October to reports of shots fired in Saratov Region (about 560 miles from Moscow). Rashkin was subsequently found in a car near the scene and a police search of the vehicle turned up fragments of an elk carcass, as well as an ax and two knives with traces of blood.
  • According to police, Rashkin said he and his colleagues had found the carcass of the elk and decided to butcher it. Police also said that Rashkin refused an alcohol screening test, which could result in a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($7,000). A source told state news agency TASS that Rashkin was drunk. Shortly after, the police opened a criminal case that could lead to poaching charges.
  • Two cases of hunting weapons were reportedly found not far from where the elk carcass was butchered. One of them had a hunting rifle with a night vision scope and the other held a tripod and cartridges, plus a hunting permit and a firearm license in Rashkin’s name.
  • Under Russian law, transporting hunted game without a permit is illegal — and there was no quota for elk hunting in the place where Rashkin was found. The head of a nearby hunting lodge told reporters that this was not the first time Rashkin and his friends were involved in poaching.
  • Rashkin later told TV channel RTVi that the whole incident had been misconstrued, and was a deliberate attempt to smear him. “I was visiting my friends and went for a walk in the woods on my own. I know the place well, it was dusk. I saw a car leaving, lights flashing. I headed to that spot and found the elk,” he said. Then, he apparently went back to the house and roused one of his friends. Together, they loaded up the dead elk and the two of them were in the process of taking it to the police when “a whole horde of FSB officers, police and environmental officers descended on us.” Rashkin denied killing the animal, insisted he was sober during the incident, and said he refused an alcohol screening test for fear it would be falsified.
  • Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov was restrained in his comments on the incident. Peskov said it wasn’t the Kremlin’s job to draw conclusions; that was the job of the State Duma’s ethics committee and Rashkin himself.
  • As a deputy in the State Duma, Rashkin has immunity from prosecution and cannot be charged without parliament’s approval. To obtain this permission, the prosecutor general must present his case to the speaker. State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has already said parliament will consider stripping Rashkin of immunity if it was asked to take such a step by the prosecutor general.
  • Rashkin has been a deputy since 1999 and is leader of the Moscow city branch of the Communist Party. While the Communist Party today is largely a token opposition party that is actually managed from the Kremlin, Rashkin represents the protest movement within it. He has publicly supported jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny (against the party line), and is usually the one to organise the party’s street protests. Recently, Rashkin joined a coalition of deputies to call for the cancellation of online voting in September’s parliamentary elections. When Gennady Zuganov, who has been Communist Party leader since 1993, steps down, Rashkin could be the one to take his place.

Why the world should care: This is far from the first illegal hunting scandal involving a high-ranking Russian official. Although these officials usually escape serious punishment, Rashkin’s politics mean he might be exception that proves the rule.