Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nashi is not ours anymore

The pro-Putin youth movement Nashi is to be dissolved as a national organisation, Russian daily newspaper Kommersant reports. The decision comes after prolonged Kremlin dissatisfaction with Nashi's increasing radicalisation and extremist tendencies as a mass movement.

As previously reported, sentiments have been rising in Moscow that Nashi has outlived its purpose after the December 2007 parliamentary elections. With increasing concern that the radicalisation of the organisation has given it a life of its own - beyond blind allegiance to the Kremlin - fear of what a loss of control over the movement might mean has probably resulted in the decision to disband the movement. In what appears almost as a Russian equivalent to the night of the long knives, the national organisation is dissolved along with all but five of its regional units.

What is interesting is also what the Kremlin chooses to keep on to in Nashi's organisation. Except the five loyal regional units, the rest of the movement's members are referred to participate in the national projects of the organisation. This is in line with how the Putin plan is devised to change and develop Russia. The step from mass movements to mass projects is logical, as mobilisation now has to turn from populism to product. Thus, Nashi's emphasis on demonstrations and picketeering is yesterday's story in Russia. Now all energy must be used to modernise the country in line with the next step of Putinism.

What is surprising with this move is not per se that Nashi is disbanded. Instead, it is the evident confidence and security that the Putinist regime obviously feels even before the March presidential elections. There is no longer any need for a mass movement to take to the streets in defence of power - no need to root out the "extremists" of the non-system opposition of Another Russia. The national projects lie ahead in the guise of "sovereign democracy" to fulfill Putin's legacy. In the eyes of the Kremlin, Nashi is not ours anymore.

This signifies both arrogance and ignorance to the severe problems that may be facing Russia in years to come. With inflation rising and facing an international economic downturn, it is a fight against time to diversify Russian economy and turn it away from its dependence on energy exports, before the momentum of change is lost. We have seen the consequences of falling oil prices before in 1986 and 1998. As global macroeconomic indicators are now turning downwards, Russia can no longer rely on a constant high demand for oil. This would go beyond arrogance and ignorance. It would be outright foolish. Still, Moscow treads on along the pre-determined road to realising the expansionist economic policies of the Putin plan, despite facts pointing to the soundness of the opposite.

To rid oneself of such an instrument of political stability as Nashi in face of future potential middle-class discontent might prove unwise in the long run. One should remember that it is the middle-class that has something to lose from the consequences of irresponsible policies. It is they that might take to the streets in disappointment of gross government failure to deliver on its promises. Then neither laws or brute force will be enough, and without Nashi to defend the regime, it might well meet with an unexpected destiny. Such a scenario is not as far-fetched as might be considered, as the price Russia has had to pay for Putin's political stability is stagnation in most walks of life and society. This, however, the Kremlin fails to see, as it is too busy maintainting the status quo of Russian politics and economy.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Zyuganov steps up to step down?

According to Russian newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russian communist leader Gennadiy Zyuganov considers withdrawing his candidacy for the March 2 Russian presidential elections. A withdrawal would be to protest against a similar negative PR-campaign that the Communist Party experienced during the December 2007 parliamentary elections.

According to recent opinion polls, Zyuganov receives surprisingly little popular support for his presidential candidacy, which would effectively force him to abandon his leadership of the communist party if they were to become official election results. Thus, even if withdrawing from the presidential race would open up to contenders to the leadership of the party, Zyuganov might consider this drastic option as preferential to a devastating election loss. According to a source in the presidential administration, the communists are currently seeking support in the Kremlin for receiving 15-20% of votes instead of the prognosticized 6%.

In the background, forces advocating a Russian two-party system seem to be at work. Hence, a discussion of merging the communist party and Fair Russia has been renewed, which would be considerably facilitated by the dethtronisation of Zyuganov. According to Nezavizimaya Gazeta, these are the same forces that want to undermine the position of Medvedev as future president of Russia. Zyuganov is very well aware of the fact that his candidacy legitimises the election of Medvedev. In the 2004 presidential elections, Zyuganov's role was much of a stage-hand in the act of reelecting Putin.

However, this time it seems to become the LDPR-leader, Vladimir Zhirinovski, who will conquer the second place in the presidential race. Such a result would further undermine Medvedev's legitimacy. Still, if Zyuganov would decide to step down, the effect is the same. Ending up in third place would be equal to his resignation as communist leader, why Zyuganov now seems to be playing out the legitimacy card against Medvedev to gain sufficient support in order to stay on as party leader. If Zyuganov would fail in these discussions and actually decide to withdraw, this has to happen no later than 27 January, as the communists otherwise will have to pay state election costs.

Even though Dmitry Medvedev seems sure to be elected the third president of Russia on 2 March, what goes on behind the scenes in Moscow at the moment is both interesting and confusing. It also provides further evidence that Putin and his aides are becoming increasingly dependent on the bureaucratic monster of political power that they have created during his era. What this will mean for Russia is still hard to say, but the evolving pattern bodes ill for the future.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Police crackdown on Nashi demonstration

According to Russian newspaper Vzglyad, a number of activists of Russian pro-Putin youth movement "Nashi" were arrested today during an illegal demonstration outside the EU-commission's Moscow office. The demonstration, gathering some 700 people, was arranged in protest against Nashi-activists, partaking in last year's picket against the Estonian embassy in Moscow, being denied visas to the EU-Schengen area.

Russian police has obviously learnt from last year's events, and urged the demonstrators to dissolve the meeting, which also was obeyed after some further disorder and some arrests. Nashi had not applied for a demonstration permit for the event. Even though the Russian constitution safeguards the right to assembly, legislation has been approved in recent years demanding official approval of any demonstration gathering more than one (sic!) person. Detainees were subsequently released out of police custody.

That police actually intervened against Nashi demonstrators seems an exception to the rule of giving the movement great leeway in their public appearances and propaganda. In view of Nashi's increasing radicalisation, not least since the Estonian crisis, concern has been raised that Nashi rethorics and actions might get out of hand. Some sources even suggest that the Kremlin is fearing a loss of control over the movement, not least if the down-to-earth practicalities and bartering of Russian politics would demand a turn away from Nashi ideals.
However, it would be an exaggeration to claim the crackdown on Nashi as a sign of the Kremlin starting to turn its back on the movement, in view of the evolving political landscape in the runup to Russian presidential elections this March. Still, one might wonder if Nashi is not all the more becoming a used political force after having fulfilled its purpose as a Kremlin instrument for the 2007-2008 parliamentary and presidential elections.

Would the movement continue to complicate matters and exaggerate Kremlin policies, official support for Nashi might dwindle in favour of other movements, as e.g. Molodaya Gvardiya - the youth organisation of Putinist party Edinaya Rossiya. The need to organise and foster the youth ideologically however persists, so whatever form this will assume, the phenomenon of forming a nationally-minded "elite" is here to stay.