A Russian state TV documentary film showed opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov having an adulterous sex romp with a party activist and exposed deep rifts with other top Kremlin opponents, raising pressure on the opposition ahead of key elections later this year.
“Kasyanov Day,” which was broadcast on Friday by state-controlled channel NTV, used footage from a secret camera and a recording device to show Kasyanov and his alleged lover, Natalia Pelevine, half-naked in a bedroom. Elsewhere in the film, they appear to meet in a Paris hotel.
Kasyanov, who served as prime minister from 2000 to 2004 before falling out with President Vladimir Putin, on Saturday declined to comment on the film. He said he expects pressure on him and other Kremlin critics to escalate. Pelevine, writing on her Facebook page, blamed the authorities and secret services for what she called a “criminal” act, apologizing for what is shown in the documentary.
The Russian opposition is complaining of an unprecedented crackdown before September parliamentary elections. Russians will go to the polls as they endure a second year of recession triggered by the collapse in oil prices, with incomes falling the most since Putin came to power 16 years ago.
Kasyanov said in an interview last month that pro-Kremlin activists were hounding him and supporters of his opposition Parnas coalition across the country. He’s also facing death threats, including an Instagram video posted in February by the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, that showed him in the cross-hairs of a scope sight. Kadyrov later added a picture of himself with a sniper rifle.
NTV has played a prominent part in pursuing opposition leaders. In 2012, it provoked demonstrations when it broadcast a documentary alleging that protesters had been paid to take part in anti-Putin rallies. Anger at alleged ballot-rigging in 2011 parliamentary elections sparked the largest street protests during Putin’s rule.
The latest film, which also gives details of luxury properties in Russia and abroad that it says are owned by the ex-premier, includes audio recordings in which Kasyanov describes as a major threat his fellow opposition leader, Alexey Navalny.
“How to build a front against Navalny,” a voice sounding like Kasyanov’s says. “That’s the main task, which should take priority over anything else.” Navalny declined to comment.
Such tactics by state-friendly media aren’t new. In 2011, a pro-Kremlin website Life News leaked private phone calls involving an opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, in which he disparaged other Putin opponents. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, was shot dead near the Kremlin in February last year. The main suspect is the deputy head of an elite police unit loyal to Kadyrov, who’s denied any involvement in the killing.
The September vote is the biggest test of the authorities before the presidential election in 2018, when Putin can seek a fourth term. While his personal ratings remain high, the government and regional authorities are becoming targets of popular discontent.