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Analysis: Walking With Putin

  • Julie Corwin

http://gdb.rferl.org/B034EF7E-437F-4F0D-883D-C0504433CBAC_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/B034EF7E-437F-4F0D-883D-C0504433CBAC_mw800_mh600.jpg The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together announced on 1 March that it has created a new youth movement called Nashi (Ours). According to a press release published on pravda.ru, which quotes Walking Together founder Vasilii Yakemenko, the goal of the new "anti-fascist" movement is to put an end to the "anti-Fatherland union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals." Several Moscow-based newspapers reported the goal of the new group is actually a bit more specific: to eventually replace the party of power, Unified Russia.

The movement's rallying cry is preventing the introduction of foreign control in Russia. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 24 February reported that it obtained documents outlining a "grandiose plan for the creation of a new youth movement" whose goal is to save the motherland from colonization by the United States. The daily quotes Walking Together leader Yakemenko as saying that "organizations in Russia are growing, on the basis of which the U.S. will create groups analogous to Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, or Ukraine's Pora. These groups are Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party and Avant Garde Red Youth."

Yakemenko, 33, initially denied in interviews with Ekho Moskvy and "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February that a new youth movement was in the works. However, later reports detailed Yakemenko's speeches at meetings in cities across Russia, such as Kursk, Orel, and St. Petersburg. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets," Yakemenko told students in Kursk that "Europe long ago asked itself the question: Who will be working at European gas stations, Turks or Ukrainians? This question now has been decided in favor of the Ukrainians. In the final analysis, for practically its entire history, Ukraine has been a colony. It's just that previously it was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony."
Yashin told gazeta.ru that former members of Walking Together along with skinheads in athletic clothing were the main attendees at the Nashi congress.


On 26-27 February, Yakemenko spoke to about 200 assembled youths at the Senezh sanatorium in Moscow Oblast for what some news reports called Nashi's "founding congress" and what Yakemenko described as a conference called "Russia's New Intellectual Elite." According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 February, the meeting was held in a building owned by the presidential administration. The daily's correspondent, Oleg Kashin, and the leader of Yabloko's youth movement Ilya Yashin managed to sneak in to the meeting, since only first names were used at the conference and no ID was required for checking in. However, when the two men were recognized, Yakemenko ordered his security guards to throw them out. Yashin told TV-Tsentr on 28 February that they were driven out of town, where he was thrown headfirst into a snow bank and kicked in the stomach several times. Yakemenko initially denied that he ever saw Yashin at the meeting. Later he said that security guards did remove Yashin from the conference hall but only after he kept trying to enter the proceedings to which he was not invited.

Intimidation

In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 1 March, Yabloko's Yashin suggested that "one of the tasks of the 'Nashisti' is to intimidate the opposition youth so that they are afraid to attend public meetings. He said that in the last couple of months there have been several clashes between the members of the political opposition and unaffiliated people. Yashin told gazeta.ru that former members of Walking Together along with skinheads in athletic clothing were the main attendees at the Nashi congress. "Kommersant-Daily's" Kashin described the participants, who were allegedly attending a conference on "Russia's New Intellectual Elite," as "very simple folk," who "when they are riding in elevators, laugh when they go up and down."

According to the Moscow-based newspapers, the real architect of Nashi is not Yakemenko but deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov. Surkov reportedly met with some 35-40 youths in St. Petersburg along with Yakemenko on 17 February to talk about setting up Nashi, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February. RosBalt confirmed that Surkov was indeed in St. Petersburg on 17 February; however, Yakemenko denied everything. Surkov was widely credited with masterminding Unified Russia's victory in the 2003 State Duma elections. He has now reportedly become disillusioned with his old creation as well as with Motherland, which was originally created to take votes away from the Communist Party. If Surkov is indeed seeking an alternative to Unified Russia, then that might explain the secrecy surrounding Nashi's creation. The presidential administration still needs obedience from Unified Russia members in the State Duma and elsewhere, which may be less forthcoming if they realize that their political careers are about to be cut short.

In an interview with kreml.org on 1 March, Viktor Militarev, vice president of the National Strategy Institute, said that he thinks that Walking Together faltered as an organization because it was held together only by money and not by an ideology. Similarly, Unified Russia could have been a "powerful pro-presidential party that served as a repository of the people's hopes for the president and hostility for the thieves, oligarchs, and corrupt bureaucrats. Instead of this, we have a parody," he concluded. However, with Nashi, Yakemenko has recently been taking a smarter approach, according to Militarev. "For example, Yakemenko has given lectures to youth activists in which he described the American authorities as our geopolitical opponent and said that Russia needs to defend itself." According to Militarev, this is a more effective doctrine than "Putin is our president and he is always right."

Writing in politcom.ru on 22 February, Tatyana Stanovaya suggests that the Kremlin's presidential campaign in 2008 may assume the features of Yeltsin's 1996 race when Yeltsin managed to come from behind because of the "Red threat." "In 2008, the Kremlin might also motivate citizens to vote not 'for' (an unpopular president) but 'against' (this time against the Orange threat) and the 'geopolitical appetites of the West' and 'the powerful subversive network within the country.'" However, if INDEM foundation analyst Yurii Korgunyuk is correct, then Nashi proponents are not pursuing a cynical election ploy. He told "The Moscow Times" on 25 February that the "Kremlin has a paranoid fear of what happened in Ukraine happening here."
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