Ponomarev, who represents Novosibirsk in the Duma, recounted the political atmosphere leading up to the March 20 vote after Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, asked him what made him the only member of the Duma to "stand up and say no when everybody else is voting yes".
"The person who convinced me to do what I have done was Vladimir Putin," Ponomarev replied.
“You know, it was two days before the actual vote was taking place in [the] Duma, it was a presidential address to the National Assembly, to the Senate, to the lower chamber, to the State Duma," he said.
“And t was a big crowd of people, maybe a thousand people altogether because there were members of Parliament plus governors and some other invited guests. And everybody was just shouting and waving hands and, you know, praising Putin and hailing the chief, and saying, ‘Let’s take over Crimea!’
“And that reminded me so much of the Soviet past, the negative aspects of the Soviet past, to take me correctly. So, I personally, I decided to sit and not to stand up and not to join that cheering crowd. And secondly, I decided that I had to vote against it.”
Ponomarev attracted Western media attention by being the only Duma member to vote against the annexation, which passed 445-1, telling Bloomberg Television: “By returning Crimea like this into Russia, we are provoking war with Ukraine, which is our brother country…, and I think that we should live together in peace and friendship.”
Consequently, Ponomarev has attracted the ire of Russian authorities and their supporters, ranging from political rebukes in Moscow to a Twitter user claiming that he should emigrate or be "crucified" for his vote.
But this is not the first time that Ponomarev has objected to Putin’s policies.
He was also one of the main organizers of a filibuster in the Duma, fighting against a law curbing public demonstrations. The bill was approved by both houses and received Putin’s signature in June 2012.
Such activism has made him a prominent target. In August 2012, he was temporarily barred from speaking in the Duma, and there is currently an attempt to strip Ponomarev’s parliamentary immunity based on alleged corruption charges.
But in a May 20 interview with the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, Ponomarev worried about the legality of the proceedings. “If everything is conducted according to the law, then it will end with nothing for me. If it is not conducted according to the law, then anything is possible.”
Ponomarev also told the Heritage Foundation that the head of his party, Sergei Mironov, asked Putin on Saturday to help remove him from office.
“We’ll see,” he said with a shrug.