A specter is haunting Russia’s political class — the specter of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. The Putinists seem hell-bent on preventing any repetition of Ukrainian or Georgian events in Russia.
On March 1, the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together announced that it “had launched a new project,” a youth movement called Nashi (Ours). According to a statement from Walking Together founder Vasily Yakemenko, who is also the leader of Nashi, the main goal of the new “anti-fascist” movement is to “put an end to the unnatural union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals” (kreml.org, March 1). But it would appear that the real objective behind creating Nashi is to replace Walking Together with a more militant and mobilized Putin youth front capable of forcefully confronting the “anti-regime” youth movements. Walking Together never had a clear-cut ideology, and the recent appearance of a counter-movement called Walking Without Putin seems to have sounded Walking Together’s death knell.
Like its predecessor, Nashi was designed by Kremlin political strategists. According to press reports, on February 17, Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the Putin administration, met with a group of 35-40 young people including Yakemenko in St. Petersburg (Kommersant, February 21). On February 26-27, around 200 youths attended what Yakemenko characterized as a conference on “Russia’s New Intellectual Elite” but actually appears to be Nashi’s founding congress. The gathering took place at a sanatorium outside Moscow that belongs to the presidential administration (Kommersant, February 28).
The prominent role that youth organizations played in the revolutionary events in Ukraine — and earlier, in the street actions in Tbilisi and Belgrade — was clearly not lost on the Kremlin pundits. In fact, steeped in Marxist tradition, the Putinists have seen in the recent political upheavals in the post-communist countries a realization of the old Trotskyite dictum about youth being the “barometer of revolution.” The urgent task, then, they believe, is to create a pro-regime and “counter-revolutionary” youth movement. The latter would be infused with patriotic ideology and seek to cast its opponents as mercenaries ready to put the Fatherland under foreign control. Symptomatically, Yakemenko has warned, “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” (Moskovsky komsomolets, February 24).
Ukraine’s presidential election debacle is indisputably a tremendous political trauma that the Putin government still cannot accept. As the Kremlin’s leading political technologist Gleb Pavlovsky conceded in a recent public lecture, “The colossal dimension of the Ukrainian catastrophe is broader than the election outcome per se” (russ.ru, February 27). The Kremlin, some liberal analysts contend, “has a paranoid fear of what happened in Ukraine happening here” (Moscow Times, February 25).
But should any revolution occur in Russia, notes Viktor Militarev, vice-president of the National Strategy Institute, it will unfold in the streets with masses of young people taking part in the events. “That’s why it is absolutely clear,” he argues, “that a force is needed that is capable of confronting the [opposite] force” (kreml.org, March 1).
But not just any force will do. The principal weakness of Walking Together is that the organization appears to have been built on mercenary interests rather than on ideology. Money is always important, Militarev and like-minded political thinkers note, but it should come after ideology. Clearly, Nashi’s “anti-fascism” is a clumsy smokescreen. The true philosophical foundations of the movement are derzhavnichestvo (Russia’s great power status) and anti-Westernism. As Yakemenko himself put it in the interview with Izvestiya, the members of his movement have a “thorough understanding of whom they should fight and how” (Izvestiya, March 2). This explains why Militarev commended Yakemenko’s attention to ideological matters when the Nashi leader used a provincial lecture tour to describe America “as our geopolitical opponent and said that Russia needs to defend itself” (kreml.org, March 1).
To be sure, this wretched political philosophy is nothing but a mere echo of ideas long entertained by the Kremlin spin-doctors. As Surkov, Nashi’s true architect, once famously said, “We all should understand — the enemy is at the gates; the front line runs through each town, each street, each house” (Komsomolskaya pravda, September 29, 2004).
The Putinists are seeking to hammer into young people’s heads an idea that the stakes in this perceived global struggle are Russia’s very political sovereignty. In this respect, Nashi’s ideologues assert, it would be a disgrace for Russia, a great power and former empire, to follow the example of Ukraine, which, as a result of the Orange Revolution, has become geopolitically dependent on the United States and European Union.
Yakemenko has offered an even bleaker interpretation of Ukrainian history: “In the final analysis, for practically its entire history, Ukraine has been a colony,” he says. “It is just that previously it was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony” (Moskovsky komsomolets, February 24).