“Nashi” Foray into Georgia Stopped in Time

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 74

A Nashi youth camp rally in Russia

On April 16, Georgian authorities prevented the Kremlin-coordinated youth group, Nashi, from provoking incidents at the South Ossetia demarcation line and in Tbilisi. A convoy of five vehicles carrying 20 Nashi activists, the "Moscow-Tskhinvali-Tbilisi Motorcade," had set off from Moscow on April 10, reaching Tskhinvali (via the Roki Tunnel) on April 15, and planned to continue into Tbilisi or, alternatively, stage an incident at the demarcation line.

Georgian Internal Affairs Minister personnel detained Nashi "commissar" Aleksandr Kuznetsov in a hotel in the city of Gori, situated in Georgia’s interior near the demarcation line, during the night of April 15-16. Kuznetsov’s video recorded statements, excerpted on Georgian television channels (Rustavi-2 TV, Imedi TV, April 16) overlap with Nashi spokesmen’s statements in Moscow at the motorcade’s start (Interfax, RIA Novosti, April 10).

Kuznetsov told Georgian interrogators that he was en route to Tbilisi for consultations with local contacts about the logistics of the group’s crossing into Georgian-controlled territory, moving on to Tbilisi, finding accommodation in the city, and designating a venue for a public stunt by Nashi amid the anti-government demonstrations in Tbilisi. The convoy was to reach Tbilisi by the evening of April 16.

Failing that plan, according to Kuznetsov, he was to return to the demarcation line and rendezvous there with the Nashi motorcade, which was to be accompanied by armed guards specially assigned to it. If Georgian police stopped the convoy from entering, or if the police arrested Kuznetsov during the likely confrontation, the convoy’s guards were to start firing in the direction of Georgian-controlled territory. This could have provoked a shootout and possible escalation.

Apart from this account, Kuznetsov’s statement corroborates earlier reports that Nashi are being financed through the office of Vladislav Surkov, first deputy head of the Russian presidential administration. Nashi’s founding chief is Vasili Yakemenko, currently head of Russia’s Committee for Youth Affairs (a state agency). Kuznetsov carried an endorsement letter from the Duma’s Committee on Youth Affairs, requesting Russian officials along the way from Moscow to Tskhinvali to assist the "Moscow-Tskhinvali-Tbilisi Motorcade" in its mission.

The Nashi had entered the internationally recognized Georgian territory in South Ossetia without having applied for Georgian visas. Thus the Georgian police was bound to block the convoy at the demarcation line, and would undoubtedly do so if the motorcade proceeds from Tskhinvali toward Tbilisi. Georgia has informed the European Union’s Monitoring Mission (EUMM) about the risk of a Nashi attempt to provoke an incident at the demarcation line.

Georgian authorities have handed Kuznetsov over to the Swiss embassy in Tbilisi, which represents Russia’s interests in Georgia and hosts a Russian interest section on that embassy’s premises. Once there, Kuznetsov claimed that he had been beaten, drugged, and forced to make a false statement under threat to his life (Interfax, April 16).

Kuznetsov, however, is an internationally ubiquitous Nashi activist. His track record includes accreditations as a "journalist" at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008 and election observer in Kosova, Iraq, and even in Georgia’s presidential and parliamentary elections in January and May 2008, respectively.

Nashi had staged a rally outside the Georgian embassy in Moscow on April 9, on the theme that "Georgian people can no longer tolerate" their president. At that demonstration they announced the plan to dispatch the "Moscow-Tskhinvali-Tbilisi Motorcade" (Interfax, RIA Novosti, April 9). Six days later in Tskhinvali the group held a joint rally with South Ossetian youth under the slogans "Saakashvili War Criminal," "Peaceful Dialogue Tbilisi-Tskhinvali," and the theme of "Constructive relations and resumption of political dialogue between Georgia and Russia."

In a similar vein, the Moscow-installed South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told the press that Tskhinvali would enter into a dialogue with "new Georgian authorities" (Interfax, April 10).

While denouncing the Georgian president the Nashi staged a pacifist stunt, "sowing a peace blanket," in Tskhinvali and planned to repeat it in Tbilisi. Stung by that prospect, one of the radical opposition politicians, Salome Zourabichvili, commented, "Russia sending Nashi here is just one of the ways in which they indirectly help Saakashvili. I advise Russia, as we have all advised them before, not to interfere in our processes" (Imedi TV, April 16).

Indeed, the appearance of Russian support would doom the Georgian radical opposition’s campaign to quick failure. Moscow shares the regime-change agenda; it hopes to see this accomplished by Georgian hands; and it realizes that Georgia’s radical opposition is too marginal to succeed unassisted. Nevertheless, Moscow cannot openly make common cause with Georgia’s radicals without defeating the shared goal of regime change.