Nashi is Dead! Long Live . . . ?

7 Apr

Burn, Baby, Burn.

Russian translation of this post, courtesy of Inosmi.

Update on the Update: More on the Nashi website “403 Forbidden.” Alexey Sidorenko tweeted “for some time [Nashi] were denying all surfers from abroad. In order to be sure try accessing it via Russia-based proxy or VPN.” I went through a Russian proxy and indeed the site works

Update: The venerable Joera Mulders informs me that if you point your web browser to Nashi’s website and you get a “403 Forbidden.” It’s apparently been down for more than a day.

Having gone through a few articles I saved on Nashi over the last few months, I should note organization’s demise was already in the works since February. Then, Izvestiia reported whiffs of Nashi’s liquidation and the transformation of its summer bash, Seliger, into something else. Moreover, the article pointed to the possible passing of youth politics from Nashi to Molodaia gvardiia, i.e. from Surkov’s people to Volodin’s.

Then in mid-March, Gazeta.ru reported that Seliger was going to be re-branded, and its 12 million ruble budget placed in new hands.

Again, all of this suggests that Nashi’s destruction is part of Volodin’s victory and the subsequent coring out of Surkov’s clients.

***

On Friday, Gazeta.ru dropped a bomb concerning the future of Nashi, the Putinphiliac youth organization. According to unnamed sources, Vasilii Yakemenko, Nashi founder and soon to be outgoing head of Rosmolodezh, met with Nashi’s four Commissars, Maria Kislitsina, Artur Omarov, Alexkasnder Gagiev, and Sergei Blintsov, and told them “the history of [Nashi] in the present form is over.” The youth organization was to be “disbanded,” with Yakemenko telling his loyal servants, “thanks for everything, you’re all free.” All current Nashi initiatives were to be shuttered, the ruble spigot plugged, the marquee clicked off, the doors bolted. Good night, y’all.

Gazeta‘s article circulated quickly as many expressed elation at the doom of what is arguably a much hated organization. Nashi’s media maiden, Kristina Potupchik, tried to dispel the story as based on unfounded “rumors.” “I’m officially declaring to all interested persons: There isn’t any talk about Nashi’s dissolution or shutting. Nor could there be.” Potupchik wrote on her blog. “Nashi will not simply continue to exist, but will also birth new projects which will remain within the framework of the movement.” “We are not closed,” she added in response to the jubilation at the news, “[unlike] your white-ribbon-fountain “revolution.”

I’ve been skeptical of Nashi’s demise in the past. This time, however, I think something is in the works. Potupchik can gloss over Gazeta‘s very detailed report all she wants. The truth is this news comes amid a few significant turning points in Nashi’s seven year history: the Nashi brand soured, Vladislav Surkov’s dismissal, Vyacheslav Volodin’s ascendency, and Putin’s plan, albeit still nascent, to reorganize the structure of his electoral base.

But does this mean Nashi is dead and buried? Dead maybe. But a resurrection in a new form is entirely possible.

Indeed, according to the article, Nashi will be “reformed” but how and into what “no one knows.”  One theory is that, with Yakemenko out as Youth Affairs chief, he will join his patron Vladislav Surkov in the Duma (there is talk that if Medvedev becomes Prime Minister, he will name Surkov his chief of staff), where a new youth movement will be born under his leadership. Given that Nashi is essentially Yakemenko’s personal property, many of the activists and all the resources the organization has accumulated will go with him. This would be an interesting move. This would put Surkov-Yakemenko-Nashi re-branded under Medvedev. Could this be the budding of the long sought after Medvedev clan base? A pretty weak base, I know. But it’s something.

Another theory is that Nashi’s Commissars will possibly create a political party out of the organization’s corpse to serve “as a base for tomorrow’s pro-Kremlin youth.” This is an interesting idea too, and works well with something Brian Whitmore and Kirill Kobrin brought up in their latest Power Vertical Podcast. Namely, Putin is looking to reorganize Russia’s political landscape based on a corporatist model around a coalition of parties and social organizations under the umbrella of the All-Russian People’s Front (ONF). United Russia, which Putin has been distancing himself from since December, would either be dissolved or split and its remnants reabsorbed into Putin’s coalition. Indeed, Putin hinted that he might lead the ONF and dump his chairmanship of United Russia. If this is the future of Putin’s electoral machine, then the reform of party registration works in Putin’s rebranding favor. It allows a bunch of disparate parties, presumably the Nashi Party would be one, to form a populist network that is flexible, and more importantly, decentralized to avoid another United Russia PR crash and burn. If one head gets bloodied, chop it off and grow two new ones in its place.

Nashi’s supposed liquidation, then, can be read in terms of a convergence of forces. The idea that Nashi has outlived its usefulness has been a longtime coming. As I noted back in 2008, there was already some in the Kremlin that felt that Nashi was no longer needed with the “Operation successor” imminent and the “Orange Threat” vanquished. Still, Nashi survived, presumably thanks to Surkov’s patronage, and spent the next four years harassing the phantoms of revolution: liberal oppositionists, foreign dignitaries, imagined “fascists,” and critical journalists. Things are now different. According to Gazeta‘s source, Yakemenko told the Commissars that “the movement was quite severely compromised before the [Duma] elections.” This explains Nashi’s conspicuous absence over the last six months. Known for bringing thousands of youth to the street, Nashi was nowhere to be found in any significance (clashes with protesters on Pushkin Square on the evening of December 5th aside) during the Putin love-fests during the Presidential campaign.  Nashi’s degradation, however, was a longtime in the making. I would place the beginning of the end at Oleg Kashin’s beating in November 2010. Kashin quite logically fingered Nashi and Yakemenko in particular for organizing the crime. As chronicled in the excellent documentary Putin’s Kiss, Kashin’s beating even turned one of its diehard members, Masha Drokova, away from Yakemenko’s clutches. Things went downhill from there, culminating in February’s email dump by Anonymous that revealed Nashi engaging in all sorts of dirty deeds, including smear campaigns against oppositionists like Alexei Navalny and organizing a DDoS attack on Kommersant, allegedly.

But there is another context to Nashi’s supposed destruction: the fall of Vladislav Surkov, the grey cardinal. Nashi is just one more casualty in the Vyacheslav Volodin-Sukov death match. Volodin won, and in one of his power consolidating moves, quickly placed youth policy directly under his thumb with his client and former Molodaia gavardiia leader Timur Prokopenko at the head. With his patron Surkov vanquished and Rosmolodezh soon to be emasculated, Vasilii Yakemenko announced his intention of leaving his post after the Presidential election. I expect his resignation around Putin’s inauguration, if not sooner. Hence, wither Nashi.

Granted, this story is still young. Things could develop in another direction in the coming weeks. But as things now stand, liquidating Nashi’s present form makes good sense. The question is what would a resuscitated Nashi look like, and more importantly, what role will it play in Putin 2.0.