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Russia Report: May 2, 2005

2 May 2005, Volume 5, Number 17
By Victor Yasmann

The National Bolshevik Party (NBP), which is Russia's oldest radical youth organization, was created in 1994 by radical writer Eduard Limonov, Eurasianism ideologue Aleksandr Dugin (who soon left the party), and rock musicians Yegor Letov and Sergei Kurikhin, as well as other counterculture figures.

Although according to its own statistics the NBP has 30,000 to 50,000 members and branches in 24 key Russian regions as well as in the Baltic states and the CIS, the party has no official status, as the authorities persistently refuse to register it. It has a network of regional and international websites and requests that its new members possess Internet skills.

The NBP's leader and cult figure is Eduard Limonov, 62, a man with an unusual history and one of the few Russian politicians with no links to the Soviet and post-Soviet ruling elite. Born in Kharkiv, Limonov was a member of the Soviet literary underground in the 1960s. In 1974, he emigrated to the United States, where he became close to American Trotskyites and anarchists. It was there that he wrote his best-selling novel "It is me, Eddie," (Eto ya, Yedichka), which has been translated into 15 languages.

Limonov soon moved to Paris, where he became a member of the French avant-garde literary salons and joined forces with French and European leftist and neo-rightist political radicals, including French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. In the late 1980s, he began to publish his articles in the national-patriotic press in the Soviet Union and in 1992 moved back to Russia. In 1994 Limonov launched the extremist ultranationalist newspaper "Limonka," which quickly began to attract various groups of young people frustrated by the hardships of reforms and embittered at the West.

Armed with his political experience in the West, Limonov proposed the creation of "revolutionary party of a new style" that could attract young people with a combination of extremist ultranationalist propaganda and "direct action" as practiced during the Maoist student protest in France and other European countries in 1968. Limonov suggested calling the new party the National Bolsheviks, as he believed that the word "communism" had been compromised by the reactionary policies of the Communist Party, which he also blamed for "losing the USSR."

While Limonov became the leader of the NBP, its chief ideologue was Aleksandr Dugin (see, the main standard bearer of the neo-imperialistic doctrine of Eurasianism. Dugin was also a proponent of the idea of a "conservative revolution" pitting Eurasia against the Atlantic powers of Great Britain and the United States. Dugin was also an editor of the party newspaper, "Limonka."

Looking back at the NBP's activities in the 1990s, the leader of the rival Communist Party-controlled Young Left Front, Ilya Ponamarev, told on 4 April that "the organization never was or is a youth movement at all."

"It is a postmodernist aesthetic project of intellectual provocateurs [in the positive meaning of the word] in which many bright and nontrivial personalities like Eduard Limonov, Aleksandr Dugin, Sergei Kurikhin, and [analyst] Stanislav Belkovskii were involved," Ponamarev said. "It was an effort, and, a quite successful one, to mobilize the most passionate and intellectually dissatisfied part of society (in contrast to the Communist Party, which utilized the social and economic protests of the leftist electorate). For this mobilization, the NBP used a bizarre mixture of totalitarian and fascist symbols, geopolitical dogma, leftist ideas, and national-patriotic demagoguery."

In 1998, Dugin and his followers left the NBP. After Dugin's exit, the NBP quickly moved to the left wing of Russia's political spectrum, accusing Dugin and his group of being fascists.

At that point, the NBP began having considerable problems with the Federal Security Service (FSB), since the special services always favored Dugin's Eurasianist philosophy. Or as 102-year-old KGB Foreign Intelligence veteran Boris Gudz claimed in the 2004 book "Geniuses of Intelligence," Eurasianism was invented in the 1920s by the OGPU, a predecessor of the KGB. Consequentially, the FSB regarded all opponents of Eurasianism, including the NBP, as enemies.

The conflict between the FSB and NBP was exacerbated by the tactics of "direct action," in which NBP activists publicly attacked people they considered symbols of the regime or domestic or foreign allies of the Kremlin. The NBP's favorite tactics were throwing mayonnaise or tomatoes at prominent public figures. Since 1998, such people as former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, and film director Nikita Mikhalkov were subjected to such attacks by the NBP, while former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Great Britain's Prince Charles were hit in face with bunches of flowers.

For these and other nonviolent actions that the NBP calls "velvet terror," many of its activists have been arrested and sentenced to serious prison terms. According to the NBP website (, more than 100 of its members have been in Russian prisons since the party's creation, while 47 are still serving sentences or awaiting trial.

In April 2001, Limonov and a group of his followers were arrested by the FSB in Altai under accusations of terrorism and preparing an armed rebellion in Kazakhstan.

Limonov awaited trial in jail until February 2003, when he was sentenced to four years in prison. Limonov pleaded not guilty and sought political-prisoner status. "We do not deserve to be called extremists. In the West, we would occupy a place between Greenpeace and Amnesty International, being a legal party and real political force, " he said, according to

In prison, Limonov wrote the book "The Other Russia," in which he dropped much of the radical dogma of national bolshevism and changed his mind about the past and future of Russia. For example, in the mid-1990s NBP activists shocked people with chants of "Stalin, Beria, Gulag," but after personal experience with modern Russian prisons, Limonov and his followers stopped romanticizing state-security organs and began calling President Vladimir Putin's Russia a "police state."

Under pressure from State Duma deputies, Limonov was released in June 2003 and continued his political evolution toward a coalition with democratic forces and the left-wing opposition against the Kremlin. The product of this evolution was the new NBP political program released in 2004, containing almost identical points to Yabloko's, for instance.

According to the program posted at, the new goals of the party should be the development of civil society and restriction of state interference in public and personal life, facilitation of the registration and activity of political parties, development of independent media and allowing criticism of the president and government on state-controlled television, civilian control over law enforcement and the FSB, restoration of the social-security network, curtailing of bureaucracy, and the end of the war in Chechnya.

Since late 2004, the NBP has protested the cancellation of the direct election of governors and the botched monetization reform and enthusiastically supported the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. On 11 April the NBP together with the Communist Party, Motherland, Sergei Glazev's For a Decent Life party, and supported by Yabloko, organized an initiative group for a national referendum on social and political reforms "with a human face," Russian media reported.

If the political orientation of NBP in the last couple years changed visibly, the tactics of direct action remain unchanged and became even more provocative.

On 2 August 2004, a group of NBP activists broke into the office of Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov and occupied it for several hours, demanding Zurabov's resignation for his responsibility for the unpopular social-benefits reforms, the NBP's website announced. Using flash-mob tactics, the NBP called its followers to gather around the office to support the action. Eventually, FSB arrested most of the participants of the action and on 12 December seven NBP activist were each sentenced to five years in prison for the "seizure of a government office and mass disturbances."

On 14 December 2004, an even bigger group of NBP members occupied the presidential-administration visitors' room in much the same manner, to protest Putin's political reforms, reported. Thirty-nine members of NBP have been arrested and are still awaiting trial. They have been accused of "attempting to seize power and organize a mass disturbance." If convicted, they could face two to eight years in prison. They are scheduled to face trial in August.

Meanwhile, the NBP continues to defend the "right of the people to revolution." The weekly "Limonka," No. 271, declared on 16 April that Russia is on the eve of revolution. "The people awoke during perestroika, and fell asleep for a while, now they have awakened again to discover what kind of moral monsters are governing them. And they rebel against these monsters. Moral complaints against the authorities are the main engine of the colored revolution."

Some political analysts believe that the only kind of revolution that can happen in Russian is a leftist-socialist and/or nationalist-patriotic revolution. If that is indeed the case, NBP, with 10 years of experience in confrontation with government, its own list of political prisoners, and tactics of direct action, will likely be at the eye of the revolutionary storm.

By Claire Bigg

In his state-of-the-nation address on 25 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin surprised the West by calling the Soviet Union's collapse the "biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." Putin said, "For the Russian people, it became a real drama. Tens of millions of our citizens and countrymen found themselves outside Russian territory. The epidemic of disintegration also spread to Russia itself."

Outside Russia, Putin's declaration has sparked debate over the gravity of the Soviet Union's demise compared to other geopolitical catastrophes such as World War II.

Some Western publications have suggested that the rise -- rather than the fall -- of the Soviet Union might have been the real catastrophe of the 20th century.

In Russia, however, Putin's statement has failed to create much controversy. Instead, it has been met largely with indifference, tacit agreement, and even enthusiasm.

Boris Kagarlitskii, the director of the Institute of Globalization Studies in Moscow, said he tends to agree with the Russian president.

Kagarlitskii said the fall of the Soviet Union and its ensuing chaos affected, at least initially, tens of millions of lives across a massive territory. And the changes, he argued, were not always for the best.

"It is very clear that for the great majority of Russian people, the disintegration of the Soviet Union was a personal catastrophe," Kagarlitskii said. "It was also a catastrophe for a tremendous majority of people in Tajikistan, quite a lot of people in Uzbekistan, and so on, including many people in Ukraine. Because families were divided, people's lives were ruined, living standards collapsed, the minimal standards of human justice, and very often of freedom, were also neglected."

Another reason Putin's statement has failed to surprise Russians is the fact that it comes from a former member of the Soviet secret services.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said Putin's comment indicates some personal nostalgia for the Soviet Union, since its collapse marked the end of his career as a KGB officer.

Putin's declaration, he said, was mainly intended as an olive branch to Russia's elderly and veterans ahead of the 9 May celebrations in Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The reform in January of Soviet-era social benefits had riled pensioners, thousands of whom had staged protests for weeks across the country.

Petrov said Putin's Soviet nostalgia would have found a receptive audience in older Russians who have seen their living standards steadily decline since 1991.

"[Putin's declaration] has to be understood in the broader context of the president's address, which was pronounced in such a tone as to be pleasant to all categories of citizens," Petrov said. "Such thoughts are particularly popular among the elderly and the veterans, in whose eyes Putin's image was greatly tarnished by the monetization of benefits at the beginning of the year."

Traditionally, the state-of-the-nation address is devoted to reviewing the government's performance in the past year and outlining its future course.

Analysts were therefore perplexed by the prominence of historical events in Putin's speech, and why he sought to place the fall of the Soviet Union in a global context.

Petrov said Putin is obviously concerned by the recent protests that toppled governments in former Soviet republics Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. Russia had been very critical of the protests, but had failed to curb them.

"I think that [Putin's declaration] is definitely linked to the events that are taking place on post-Soviet territory," Petrov said. "It is in part a reaction to global tectonic processes, changes -- to the transition from a post-Soviet existence to a fundamentally new life on this territory."

Putin also used his state-of-the-nation address to make clear he would not tolerate similar events on Russian territory. He said authorities would react to any unrest with what he called "legal but tough means."

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

Just days ago, Moscow and Tbilisi blamed each other for scuttling talks on the withdrawal of Russian military bases in Georgia. But now both sides are reporting progress on the issue. Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili said on a visit to Moscow yesterday that Russia is now willing to vacate both facilities by 2008. Although there is still no formal agreement on a pullout date, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested yesterday that a compromise is in sight.

Zurabishvili said the fate of Russia's military bases has been "all but decided."

The Georgian envoy told Georgia's Rustavi-2 private television channel yesterday that she and Lavrov and agreed in principle the pullout should be completed by 1 January 2008.

She also suggested that Moscow might begin vacating the two facilities as soon as the presidents of both countries sign a final agreement on the withdrawal.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has suggested that, without a firm agreement on a withdrawal date, he might not join his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in May to attend ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The Georgian president addressed the issue of the bases while speaking at the 22 April GUUAM summit in the Moldovan capital Chisinau.Tbilisi for the past five years has demanded that the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases be vacated as soon as possible. Russia has claimed it does not have enough money to pull out before the next decade.

"Russia's military bases are stationed in Georgia against the will of the Georgian people. They do not serve the interests of either Russia or Georgia; nor do they serve the interests of our bilateral relations and regional security," Saakashvili said. "We hope we will be able to agree on a [mutually] acceptable, civilized, and gradual -- yet final -- withdrawal of the Russian military bases before the Moscow summit."

At a 1999 summit of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE), Russia was requested to clear the four ex-Soviet military bases it had been maintaining in Georgia. The OSCE said the Russian bases violated international disarmament treaties on conventional weapons.

In 2001, Moscow vacated the Vaziani airfield, near Tbilisi, and handed it over to Georgian authorities. Claims that it also withdrew from the Gudauta military base in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia have not been independently verified.

Far more problematic has been the fate of the two remaining bases.

They are located respectively in Batumi, the capital of the autonomous Republic of Adjara, and in Akhalkalaki, in the predominantly Armenian southern region of Samtskhe-Javakheti.

The issue has been a major hurdle in talks over a new Georgian-Russian bilateral treaty.

Tbilisi for the past five years has demanded that the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases be vacated as soon as possible. Russia has claimed it does not have enough money to pull out before the next decade.

The Georgian parliament on 10 March adopted a nonbinding resolution suggesting that the government should force the withdrawal of Russian troops by year's end if the sides fail to reach an agreement by 15 May.

Lavrov yesterday indicated Moscow might be willing to accelerate the withdrawal by starting to pull out part of its military equipment in the months to come. He also said Russia will continue to hand over Soviet-era plants and other facilities that are not part of the bases.

"We agree that the withdrawal should be progressive and could begin already this year, provided corresponding accords are reached," Lavrov said. "This concerns heavy military equipment; this concerns those military facilities that are not part of the Russian military bases, and this also concerns questions related to the joint use of a number of facilities that are part of the Russian military bases in Georgia."

A major concern for Moscow is that NATO hopeful Georgia might authorize the deployment of U.S. or other allied troops on its territory once Russian forces leaves.

Tbilisi has said it has no intention of allowing in any non-Georgian troops after the Russian pullout. But it refuses to meet Moscow's request that its legislation be amended accordingly. It says decisions about foreign military bases are not Russia's concern.

But the two sides have shown signs of cooperating on other issues. Giving few details, Lavrov hinted yesterday that progress had been made on setting up an antiterrorist center in Georgia.

"In line with a decision reached by our two presidents, it has also been agreed that, in parallel with the pullout of the Russian bases, a Georgian-Russian antiterrorist center would be set up," Lavrov said. "Negotiations to that effect have already started between representatives of the secret services of both states. [These negotiations] will continue in the near future."

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has demanded the antiterrorist center be set up at the Batumi and Akhalkalaki facilities and used to train army and border-guard joint units.

But Georgian officials claim the proposal is a pretext for maintaining Russian troops in the country. They say any antiterrorist center should be based in Tbilisi and operate more as a think tank than a military training site.

Zurabishvili implied yesterday that there is much to be done before a comprehensive bilateral agreement can be made, saying, "The devil is in the details."

6-8 May: Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov to visit Minsk for talks with Belarusian legislators

6-8 May: Working Russia movement to hold anti-war rallies near US embassy, according to leader Viktor Anpilov

8 May: CIS heads of state will gather in Moscow for a summit

9 May: Commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II

10 May: Russia-EU summit to be held in Moscow

10 May: Latvian, Russian officials to sign Russia-Latvia border agreement

11 May: Federation Council will consider law on election of State Duma deputies

16 May: Moscow court will deliver its verdict in trial of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and co-defendants

18 May: Monument to Tsar Aleksandr II to be unveiled in Moscow

26 May: Constitutional Court expected to rule in a case filed by the Federal Tax Service, which is seeking to overturn the current three-year statute of limitations on tax-related crimes

30-31 May: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit Japan

end of May: Union of Rightist Forces party congress to be held

19 June: Referendum in Samara on dismissing Mayor Georgii Limanskii

23 June: Yukos shareholders meeting

24 June: Gazprom shareholders meeting. Date by which merger of Gazprom and Rosneft to be completed, according to RBK

4 July: 750th anniversary of the founding of Kaliningrad

6-8 July: G-8 summit in Scotland

10 July: Early presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan

August: CIS summit to be held in Kazan

September: First-ever Sino-Russian military exercises to be held on the Shandong Peninsula

1 November: New Public Chamber expected to hold first session

2006: Russia to host a G-8 summit in St. Petersburg

1 January 2006: Date by which all political parties must conform to law on political parties, which requires at least 50,000 members and branches in one-half of all federation subjects, or either re-register as public organizations or be dissolved.