Journalists want a member of the Russian parliament investigated for sexual harassment. He thinks the allegations are hilarious
On February 26, journalists reporting at the State Duma (the lower house of Russia’s parliament) asked the legislature’s leaders to discuss the behavior of Leonid Slutsky, the head of the Duma’s international affairs committee who faces allegations that he has sexual harassed multiple women reporters. Journalists are pressing to raise the matter before an ethics commission.
Several reporters from the parliamentary pool told Meduza they met with Vadim Marshalko, the deputy director of the State Duma's administrative office. The meeting with Mashalko included representatives from almost every major news outlet with journalists in the Duma press pool, including TASS, Interfax, RIA Novosti, Gazeta.ru, RBC, Izvestia, the BBC, Kommersant, Vedomosti, Regnum, Moskovsky Komsomolets, and the Moskva news agency.
"The idea of going en masse came from our pool colleagues. This has a upset a lot of us, since Slutsky’s behavior has been an issue for a long time now. The Duma is taking a three-week recess soon, and deputies are returning to their constituents, so journalists are worried that the story will simply end up on the back burner,” one of the journalists told Meduza.
According to Meduza's source, “many people were angry that the only reaction from the Duma in three days has been from Deputy Speaker [Igor] Lebedev and some kind of women's club that nobody had ever heard of before.” (The members of the women’s club defended Slutsky, calling the accusations against him “a provocation.”)
At the conference with Marshalko, journalists called on Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin to investigate the allegations personally. “Everybody wanted at least some kind of a reaction from Volodin as Duma chairman,” the pool journalist told Meduza.
"Some said it would be right to force Slutsky to issue a public apology. Others said Slutsky would already have resigned, were Russia a Western democracy,” Meduza's source claimed.
Now is not the time for action
Vadim Marshalko apparently told the reporters that Volodin is aware of the charges against Slutsky, but he said that Volodin has already left Moscow to visit with his constituents. Journalists will have to wait until he returns for any follow up from the Duma’s speaker.
“Vadim listened attentively to what we had to say (probably around 10 people spoke) and said he would pass the message onto his boss. We await his response,” one journalist told Meduza. “We conveyed our demands, and they’re taking some time to think it over. You get the impression that [Marshalko] wants to assess public opinion and find out whether it will be possible to hush things up, or whether it will be necessary to take some action,” another participant in the meeting told Meduza.
Journalists were not told at the meeting just when the State Duma leadership will respond to the accusations against Slutsky. “In theory, the earliest date by which deputies could meet and discuss the incident would be March 1, but the main event that day will be something else: the president's address [to the Federal Assembly]. Everything else may take a back seat,” a journalist told Meduza.
Dozhd journalist Yelizaveta Antonova, who wrote the first report about Slutsky allegedly harassing women reporters at the Duma, refused to discuss the meeting with Meduza. Vadim Marshalko and Konstantin Tarasov, who heads the Duma’s public relations department, both ignored Meduza’s phone calls.
Dozhd broadcast its original report on Leonid Slutsky on February 21. Citing three women journalists, the TV channel said Slutsky regularly makes sexual advances on young pool journalists. Other pool reporters later said they are aware of similar behavior by Slutsky.
Now is the time for laughter
Slutsky denies the accusations. Last week on Facebook, he even publicly joked about the charges with fellow Duma deputy Anton Morozov, who invited him to share the blame with some of his colleagues. Vedomosti journalist Olga Churakova says this exchange by itself should be grounds for a review by the Duma’s ethics commission.
Asked on February 27 if officials at the Kremlin are following the sexual harassment allegations against Leonid Slutsky, Vladimir Putin's official spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters, “No. They're not.”
After telling Dozhd that he was unaware of any accusations against his party colleague, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky declared on February 27 that deputies in LDPR “do not smoke, do not use alcohol, and never sexually harass women.” The firebrand politician — who once threatened in a drunken tirade to sink the United States using futuristic weapons, and years later ordered an aide to rape a pregnant journalist — says he'll revisit the issue after the March 18 presidential election. Zhirinovsky says reporters are trying to distract him from the campaign by insisting that he address the Slutsky allegations now.