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Russia: The Kremlin's New Team?

Nashi activists at a special training camp this summer The fall political season in Russia got off to an early start this year and featured young people armed with wooden bats engaging in a street brawl against leftist political activists. The incident spawned speculation that the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, which has always maintained a beligerent, almost martial ideology, is being converted into the enforcers of the Kremlin's views.

Russian media reported that on 29 August, activists from several anti-Kremlin youth organizations -- including the National Bolshevik Party (NBP); For the Motherland, the youth wing of the Motherland party; and the left-radical Avant-Garde of Communist Youth (AMK) -- held a meeting to discuss a series of mass demonstrations to be held this fall under the name Anticapitalist March-2005.

After they left the meeting, the group attracted the attention of about two dozen masked young men, who began shooting from a starter pistols and air guns. The assailants then attacked the leftists with baseball bats, severally beating several of them, reported on 30 August., the official website of the Communist Party, also posted similar information. Some of the attackers reportedly wore T-shirts with logos of the pro-Kremlin youth organization Nashi.

When the attackers finished beating the leftists, they reportedly set fire to a parked car and left the scene in a bus that had apparently been waiting for them. As a result of the attack, about a dozen of the leftist activists were injured and three were hospitalized. reported on 30 August that police managed to stop the bus and to file charges of causing mass disturbances and using weapons against the hooligans. reported the same day, however, that the charges were reduced to "petty hooliganism" the same day, allegedly after police received a telephone call "from higher-ups." The detained men were released after being held just three hours, the website reported.

Who Is To Blame?

NBP leader Eduard Limonov on 30 August accused Nashi of organizing the attack, calling the incident a "manifestation of civil war," RosBalt reported. Communist Party deputy head Ivan Melnikov and Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin issued similar statements blaming Nashi. Stanislav Yakovlev, an activist for the Pora youth movement, alleged that the assault had been "ordered" and that it had been carried out by "soccer hooligans" who had been recruited into Nashi's ranks for just such purposes, reported on 30 August.

Nashi spokesman Ivan Mostovich, however, dismissed the accusations and said the organization has a policy of nonviolence, reported on 30 August. He attributed the attack to the "criminal underground financing of the NBP and other radical leftist organizations." also reported that Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin also expressed the opinion that he is inclined to blame the leftists for the incident. He recalled several incidents in the past year or so when NBP activists staged nonviolent takeovers of government offices, saying that the police "remain vigilant against leftwing extremists.", which is controlled by the Russian state broadcasting company VGTRK, suggested that NBP and AKM were trying "to attract public attention through provocations."

In an interview with on 30 August, National Strategy Institute founder Stanislav Belkovskii, who has a reputation for being well-informed about machinations within the Kremlin, charged that the 29 August attackers were led by a man with the nickname Kopilka (Money Box). Belkovskii further alleged that Kopilka is connected with presidential adviser Vladislav Surkov, who is in charge of the Kremlin's relations with society and public organizations. Belkovskii told Ekho Moskvy on 31 August that Kopilka carries an identification card from Surkov's staff

A Dangerous Game

"This is a very dangerous game for the Kremlin," Belkovskii said. "It shows the Kremlin cannot rely on the ordinary law enforcement machinery and there is forced to seek the help of organized-crime groups. This could be fatally dangerous for the reputations of Kremlin officials in the West."

Asked why Surkov needs such people, Belkovskii alleged that he had been ordered to create a kind of "paramilitary guard" without connections to the security agencies to intimidate and assault undesirables. The purpose is to give the Kremlin deniability.

Belkovskii predicted that because the Kremlin will always have to repudiate publicly the activities of these groups, it will eventually have to "betray them," provoking a conflict. As if to confirm Belkovskii's analysis Duma Speaker and Kremlin loyalist Boris Gryzlov on 30 August issued a statement denouncing the attack on the NBP activists and their allies.

He said the incident "was prepared in advance, calculated, and planned," according to ITAR-TASS. "We now need to find out who stands behind these guys and expose the organizers of this outrage."

Belkovskii's speculations were also seemingly supported by incidents at the beginning of August when three Polish citizens -- two diplomats and a journalist -- were assaulted by thugs on Moscow streets. The incidents were widely seen as a response to a mugging incident involving two teenaged children of Russian diplomats in Warsaw, and as a result of general tensions between Poland, on one hand, and Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, on the other.

The wave of assaults against Poles ceased as if by magic the moment that President Vladimir Putin, on 12 August, called Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and the two presidents agreed to improve the atmosphere of bilateral relations.

See also:

"Here Comes The Sun For Putin's Patriotic Youth"