I’m desperately trying to catch up with several items that I’ve encountered over the last week. Joera Mulders of the excellent Russia Watchers sent me the following story about Nikita Ivanov, a former official in the President’s administration, who was kicked off United Russia’s electoral lists.
According to Vedomosti, the Central Election Committee noticed that United Russia electoral list was one short of the 600 named at its party congress. The missing name turned out to be Ivanov, though he participated in ER’s much touted, but virtually unknown to the public, “primaries.” Ivanov has a long history working with the Putinistas. He got his start working as an advisor to Presidential aide, Sergei Prikhodko in 2000. From 2005-2008, he served as the deputy head of Office of Communications with Foreign Countries.
Apparently, Ivanov also served, and here is where it get juicy, as a liaison between the Presidential administration and pro-Kremlin youth under the direction of the Grey Cardinal himself, Vladislav Surkov..
According to a former employee of the Office of Communications, Ivanov’s special duties was to coordinate between the administration and organs of Internal Affairs on street demonstrations. “In 2005, young people who arrived on a bus attacked one of the opposition meetings with baseball bats. The police detained the hooligans, delivered them to the District Internal Affairs office, and held them for several hours. Then some employee from the President’s administration came to the division and after that all the detainees were let go without charges,” says oppositionist Ilya Yashin, then a member a Yabloko. According to him, it came out several days later that this employee was Ivanov, and he wrote about in a newspaper. “After that the deputy chairman of Yabloko, Sergei Ivanenko, forwarded me a message from Ivanov from a contact in the Kremlin: if there are similar articles in the future, a lot of unpleasantness would befall on me,” Yashin remembered.
According to a person close to the Kremlin administration, Ivanov is directly under the first deputy head Vladislav Surkov and has informally worked with pro-Kremlin youth, and after Manezh [riot], football fans. While doing this, he was transferred to United Russia’s executive committee. According to United Russia, however, no one ever saw him at the executive committee and what he does is unknown.
Why was Ivanov kicked off United Russia list despite his loyal service to Surkov? It unclear. All Vedomosti cites is a supposed “conflict with important Kremlin officials.”
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By Sean — 11 years ago
Delegates at United Russia’s 9th Congress voted unanimously to make Putin its party chairman. Putin accepted. Surprise, surprise. This possibility has been buzzing around the Russian media for a few weeks now. And in one fail swoop, what was thought to merely be a shell of a political party, has gained importance. Clearly Putin’s “election” to Party leader shows that United Russia is nothing without him.
That of course raises the issue of whether a nothing party like United Russia will actually give Putin something. As Konstantin Sonin noted in the Moscow Times, leading United Russia wouldn’t necessarily give Putin any guarantee over controlling the government. “The party has nothing to offer Putin in his struggle for power,” says Sonin. Indeed, political parties mean little real political power in Russia, even well connected behemoths like United Russia. Sonin continues:
In reality, United Russia’s 300-plus State Duma deputies are ready to give their allegiances not to the party leadership or to Putin personally, but to whomever they believe will be the country’s next leader. If they are convinced that Dmitry Medvedev has ultimately taken hold of central authority, then he will be the one who is able to control the Duma.
The chairman position gives Putin virtually unlimited power within UR. Putin will have the power to appoint party leaders and suspend their powers, and override any party decision expect for those adopted at congresses. His removal is only possible with a 2/3 congressional vote.
If Putin can be taken at his word, he has plans for United Russia. In his address to the Congress he stated that the party of Power needed to “reform itself become more open for discussion and for taking into account the opinion of the electorate, it must be de-bureaucratized completely, cleared of casual people pursuing exclusively their own material gains.” Look out, there’s a new sheriff in town.
Plans have already been set in motion for the recognition of internal factions. Three “clubs” have been created within United Russia to represent its right, center, and left. There is the Center of Social Conservative Policy, headed by Andrei Isaev, the liberal-conservative “November 4th” club led by Vladimir Pligin, and the State-patriotic club led by Irina Yarovaya. Whether these clubs will actually mean anything in terms of inter-party dialog remains to be seen.
Putin’s chief task, if he chooses to take it, will be to rid the party of what he calls “corrupt people.” A task easier said than done. Historically, attempts to clean up party corruption have horribly failed. Often the anti-bureaucratic campaigns, purges, and even arrests within the Communist Party created more corruption. And like the Communist Party of the past, United Russia seems allergic to any real cracking down on its corrupt members. Last week, the United Russia dominated Duma rejected a bill which would require deputies to declare the incomes and property of their relatives up to three years after leaving office. Hiding wealth and property in the names of family members is a common, albeit crude way, of hiding corruption.
Basically, if Putin actually decides to lead United Russia, he’s going to have his hands full. Just because he is the almighty Putin doesn’t mean he will be successful.
One should note that Medvedev was invited to join UR, but he declined. “Certainly United Russia is a party of my like-minded fellows, but I believe my membership in the party premature,” Medvedev stated. “I believe that after my election to the presidential post it would be more correct to remain a non-partisan.” Yeah, non-partisan in form, but not in content.
By Sean — 11 years ago
It took a week longer than was predicted. But few doubted that it was only a matter of time. Prime Minister Zubkov finally made it official: Vasilii Yakemenko will head the Kremlin’s Youth Committee as expected. Now Yakemenko has the real capital to affect youth politics in Russia–a budget that is estimated to be $160 million rubles. In fact, getting a handle on this money appears to be Yakemenko’s first assigned task. “Vasilii’s first step in the position of leader will be the dog-eat-dog fervor in the struggle for departmental resources,” a source told Kommersant. The Commission’s potential budget not only comes from what the Russian government has allocated for youth, but also from the Ministry of Culture and the State Sport Agency; not to mention monies allocated for youth in regional budgets.
Yakemenko is a pure post-Soviet vydvizhenets bureaucrat. Born in 1971 to a helicopter designer and translator, Yakemenko experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union in the army, where he served as a radio-telegraphist. Upon his discharge he tried the private sector. His business activities in the new Russia included leasing helicopters, starting a publishing company, general trading, and building ventilators.
Making only moderate headway in the gangster capitalism of the 1990s, Yakemenko eventually decided that the social mobility of a unabashed pro-Kremlin chinovnik bore more fruit. And thus he turned his entrepreneurial skills to politics. His first brush will the political was a brief stint in the music business, where he was the producer for the group Muzyka lezha, which, in 1999, recorded the song “Staryi primus,” which ridiculed Evgenii Primakov. He was also involved in “Singing Together,” a quickly defunct music project devoted to recording patriotic songs. Yakemnko must have liked the “together” theme because a year later he created the first pro-Putin youth organizations, Walking Together. Walking Together, however, quickly ran out of political steam. When the political winds were blowing “revolution” across the CIS, first in Georgia, then Ukraine, and finally stalling in Kyrgyzstan, Walking Together didn’t seem to have the right kind of “umph” to ward off any potential attraction “colored revolution” had among Russian youth. Nashi was born in 2005 in that context.
Yakemenko’s almost religious devotion to Putin borders on monarchist adulation. In an interview in Gazeta in January 2006, of Putin he said, “It would be simply great if Putin goes for a third even a forth [term]. Let’s talking about it openly. In the last few years, the game with gubernatorial elections could not be settled, and what was the result? The result was that Mintimer Sharipovich Shaimiev sate for 29 terms [in office]. Is that so bad? No, it’s good!” If I would guess, Yakemenko is a fervent member of the fabled “Third Term Party.”
That kind slavishness has finally paid off as Yakemenko now enters the government. And what does this mean for Nashi in particular and Russian youth politics in general? While too soon to tell, it’s a clear signal that Nashi will have to decide its future with only the indirect influence of their leader and founder. I say indirect because I doubt that heading a state commission and scrambling for state funds will allow much time for a direct role in Nashi’s everyday operations. That leadership vacuum could have profound effects on the direction Nashi takes especially as it seeks to define its post-Putin identity.
Here the parallels with the Komsomol of the 1920s come into view. It didn’t take long for the Komsomol to experience an “identity crisis” of sorts. Already unsure of its purpose toward the end of the Civil War (would it be class based or a mass organization? Was it to be subordinated to the Bolshevik Party or merely affiliated? Was it a revolutionary organization for youth or a political educative body?), only became more chaotic as its peasant membership exploded, thereby diluting both its proletarian numerical hegemony and the influence of members with “revolutionary credentials,” and having its deity, Lenin, die in 1924. By the time the Komsomol’s first generation had all but left by the end of the decade, the League was expanding numerically but atrophying in political vivaciousness. It took Stalin’s Revolution to re-inject it with revolutionary romanticism.
Nashi will certainly not experience the same political questions, but it could certainly be met with similar overarching problems of identity, purpose, and energy. Yakemenko’s “promotion” could signal their beginning. Nashi’s future leaders are an average of ten years his younger. Yakemenko is 36, while the front runners to head the organization, Nikita Borovikov and Marina Zademid’kova are 26 and 22 years old respectively. For them the turbulence of the 1990s, which if anything Nashi’s existence is predicated on avoiding a return, is merely a childhood memory. Their formative experience are the Putin years, a fact that begs the question whether the organization can find a definitive post-Putin calling. The answers to these questions will only become more imperative as Nashi grows in numbers and influence.
But Nashi’s future is only one issue among many when you consider the power Yakemenko now has in shaping youth politics in general. The purse strings are a powerful weapon in deciding the life and death of youth organizations. I’m sure that Yakemenko will wield that weapon effectively for the tastes of his political masters. His first rehearsal will be the Duma elections, but I doubt the Youth Committee will have a big impact in December unless it works double time. The real performance will be immediately following the Presidential elections in March. I say after, and not before, because the elections will provide enough natural inertia to push political youth into action. The real task will be maintaining a semblance of that fervor in the months following.
It is here that at least the financial centralization of youth politics under Yakemenko may prove to be a contradiction. For sure having the power to manipulate the purse strings allows for greater influence, especially in the regions. But history has shown that youth organizations don’t function well centralized. Centralization saps their energy, making them rote, predictable, and boring, and as a result, hollow. Considering that Nashi’s successes have been their more flamboyant acts–the anti-Estonian rallies, hounding British Ambassador Brenton, holding summer camp, public events and campaigns, not to mention confronting opposition youth groups in the streets–centralization threatens to streamline and flatten the carnivalesque that makes participation in pro-Kremlin groups like Nashi attractive, not to mention fun. Thus Yakemenko is faced with the same problems his forefathers of the Komsomol did in their first years. How does one effectively meld political discipline with youth spontaneity? On this, the creation of a Youth Commission in general, and Yakemenko’s appointment in particular, might cause more harm than good.
By Sean — 7 years ago
Over the past few years, I’ve argued that Nashi has been in a state of confusion in a post-Colored Revolution world. The Putin youth cult was created in 2005 precisely to defend Russia from enemies within and without hellbent on bringing “democracy” to Russia. But since 2008, when the “Orange Threat” was declared vanquished, Nashi has bobbed along on the Russian political scene without any resounding battle call to unite its forces. Sure their annual summer-fest at Seliger has grown in number and scope and their day-to-day campaigns, pickets, and pranks have continued in more and more colorful ways. The Russian liberal “opposition” continues to play its role as the target for legal, media, and sometimes physical harassment. But all of these activities still lack a certain oomph, let alone urgency, when Russia appears as more or less politically and economically stable.
What does a rudderless counterrevolutionary youth organization do when there is no threat to rally the troops to battle? Why, you invent one.
Russia is once again in peril. That’s right, in peril. Or so thinks Vasili Yakemenko, Nashi founder and head of the Russian Department of Youth Affairs. Two weeks ago, a document, presumably written by Yakemenko, titled, “For Background Information Only” appeared on a Nashi discussion board on Vkontakte calling for members to troll the Internet to prevent Russia’s destruction at the hands of Boris Nemtsov, Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov, Alexei Navalny, and Lev Ponomarev. The text is nothing less than a conspiracy laden call to arms. Here’s a translation of its more juicy parts:
In the next two years an attempt will be undertaken to remove the legally elected President of Russia. The attempt will be to realize a Lybian-Iraqi scenario in our country which will bring total chaos, civil war, and the appointment of a President by the US State Department. In preparation for this event the Nemtsovs, Navalnys, Linomovs, Ponomarevs and others have bought themselves grantees, fascists, and rouges, and have begun a smear campaign against United Russia.
What follows is an plea to support United Russia even though it’s not “ideal” and has many “bribe-takers,” “ineffective officials” and “plain criminals” in its ranks. To break from it now, Yakemenko asserts, would lead to Russia tearing itself apart.
We must understand that if we don’t like United Russia, we must enter it and change it from the inside. If someone doesn’t like United Russia to the extent that he can’t join it, let him go to another party. If he doesn’t like an existing party, let him register one himself, but honestly, and not out of false and dead souls like Nemtsov and PARNAS.
But the POINT IS, that just because we don’t like what is happening in our country, it is NO REASON TO DESTROY IT! Just because we don’t like United Russia, it is no reason to destroy it!
No, Nemtsov, Kasyanov and Navalny need the destruction of the party and the country!
The destruction of the country always begins with the destruction of the Party. The collapse of the USSR in 1991, which carried millions of our parents into poverty in the 1990s, lost territory, and wars also began with the destruction of the KPSS.
Yakemenko then goes on to explain what he expects from his minions over the next two years:
1. Figure out what is going on. Special schools will work for you. You will study geopolitics, politics, conceptual design, rhetoric, psychology, and social networking. Learn to dispute and state your opinion. It is necessary to talk, read books, and watch movies to convince people.
2. That you become the most famous people on the Internet. Become pundits, journalists, bloggers and plain authorities to your contemporaries.
3. That you begin to work with information and the means to spread it, and that means to begin to influence the perception of Russia and what is going on around it.
4. That you will be the first who begin to direct people through social networking.
5. That we create a powerful All-Russian Internet network together that will be able to independently formulate federal white papers, and promote and spin its own news agenda.
6. That you will become the best creators of Internet content.
. . .
You will send me proposals to overcome these problems:
Trolling search engines for Vladimir Putin. The illusion of the dominance of the oppositional opinion on the Internet. The spread of child pornography. The absence of people with our outlook at the top of LiveJournal. The spread of extremist material. Internet provocation.
And also proposals for the creation of any social-political Internet content, able to attach attention of a large number of people. This, above all, TEXTS and video clips, pictures, demotivators, interviews on the street, comics, graffiti, sketches, calendars, songs, dances, street actions, flash mobs, and any other means.
The text then urges 16 to 25 year-old LiveJournal, Twitter and YouTube users to register for a special group, “Sponge Bob and his Friends, and attend a meeting to discuss how the youth will save United Russia, and by extension, Russia itself.
Who is this Sponge Bob? It’s none other than Yakemenko himself, as his Vkontakte page suggests.
The “half-secret” meeting foretold in the manifesto was held last Friday at the Mir movie theater in Moscow, reports Nezavisimaya gazeta.
The gathering of the meeting with the head of Rosmolodezh came to life in circumstances of a quasi-conspiracy. Or a role playing game. A week prior, young visitors to cafeterias in the capital were given white envelopes with their lunch checks with “If you’re happy with everything in life, pass this envelope to a neighbor” written on them.
One of the receivers of the letter, deciding to participate in Rosmolodezh’s game further, but didn’t want to give his name, told NG, “On that day, September 5, friends and I were sitting at a cafe on Staryi Arbat. We were given a white envelope with the check with an invitation to a parade of Mоscow students at an event Yakemenko [is organizing]. The letter was addressed to young people who are socially active and wish to create a better life for themselves and Russia. Those wanting to participate in the meeting had to send an SMS message with “Ready” (Gotov) to a short four digit number.
On Thursday night, unbeknown to the “Ready-ers,” young people got an SMS from a number addressed as “Organizer.” On Friday they were expected to meet at 6 pm at the Mir movie complex on Tsvetnoi Bulevar.
When NG‘s source arrived at the appointed place, he didn’t notice any posters or announcements informing about the forthcoming meeting. Metal detectors were put in front of one of the movie entrances where participants were to register. Young people dressed in red jackets (Nashi’s uniform–Sean) with “Come with us” written on them, asked to leave their information on the invitation of the Youth department. “There was a girl standing next to me, a freshman from a private university in Moscow, who came to the event with her mother,” a participant told NG. But they wouldn’t let her mother in. The guys in the red jackets explained that this meeting was only for young who sent an SMS request beforehand.
At the meeting Yakemenko spoke for an hour and a half to 150 attendees about preventing a Middle Eastern scenario and stressed the importance of young people to become the “conscience of the nation” on the Internet to prevent it. “The Internet and social networking played a big role in these revolutions,” he told the audience. “Through them, the opposition passed information about protests and spread calls to overthrow the regime.” Also of note, Yakemenko didn’t mention President Medvedev or even United Russia once. He only repeatedly referenced Putin “as the leader of our government.”
What to make of Yakemenko’s manifesto, his semi-conspiratorial gathering, and the call to arms on the Internet? Some of it is merely an attempt to broaden what Nashi is already doing. For example, Nashi has been waging a campaign against Alexei Navalny for a while now. The most recent was attempt at slander was to charge that he was reviving money from Anatoly Chubais. Navalny thoroughly dismissed that notion by pointing out that Chubais’ company Rosnano was a sponsor of Seliger, adding a photo of Putin meeting with the oligarch to boot. Nevertheless the anti-Navalny screed shot straight up LiveJournal’s top posts list. As Anton Nosik told Novaya gazeta, Nashi uses bots to hock the popularity of their posts.
But part of this Internet campaign to become the “conscience of the nation” is right out of this summer’s Seliger camp. Two of the seminars given at Seliger, “Information Flow” and “Politics,” promoted the above activities. “Information Flow” sought to teach campers how to “write corresponding texts, create stories, record podcasts and make films for a “new generation,” reported Lenta.ru in May. “Moreover, instructors will talk about methods of conducting PR-campaigns on the Internet and rules of conducting blogs.” “Politics” looked to train United Russia foot soldiers for December’s Duma elections, and presumably for the Presidential election in March. The goal of “Politics” was to facilitate “the formation of the country’s new political elite, capable of independently solving key social and political problems, advocate freedom and self-sufficiency, to realize their political and civil rights, and to train nationally orientated youth.”
When you add the fear of a Lybian-Iraqi scenario to the mix, you get Sponge Bob goes to war.
Speaking of Sponge Bob, it’s more than a bit ironic that just as he and his friends prepare to defend Russia from enemies within and without, that Professors Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, of the University of Virginia’s Department of Psychology, released a study showing that SpongeBob Squarepants “dampen preschoolers’ brain power.” Can you imagine what’s happening to youth in the clutches of Russia’s Sponge Bob?