A number of large Western companies sponsored a Krelim-backed pro-Putin camp organized by a controversial Russian nationalist movement, according to a Russian investigative journalist.
In his report on the All Russia Youth Innovation Forum, Roman Shleynov, the investigative editor of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, writes, “Videos of the event, available online, and interviews with participants suggest scenes reminiscent of Soviet days, with giant portraits of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on display and crowds of young people flying banners of pro-Kremlin youth movements.”
Large boards featured photos of opposition political leaders, writers, and human rights activists who were branded as “liars” and accused of “blackening our Motherland.” Among those targeted: Russian Newsweek editor Mikhail Fishman, journalist Alexander Podrabinek, human right activists Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Lev Ponomarev, and opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.
Few imagined insults to the Russian state were ignored. Among the puppet images mounted on stakes was that of American screenwriter Robert Rodat. Rodat’s crime, according to a note posted on his stake: “failing to mention the Soviet Union as a participant in World War II” in his screenplay, Saving Private Ryan.
The Nashi movement, which provided “organizational support” for the event, has been compared to the Soviet youth organization Komsomol and Hitler’s Youth.
“Back in Russia’s communist heyday, the Soviet youth group, Komsomol, sprang from the ruling party’s obsession with “shaping the political consciousness” of a young generation,” writes Owen Matthews of Newsweek.
And so it is today. The Kremlin’s drive to win—or control—the hearts and minds of Russia’s youth took root in the aftermath of popular revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in 2003-05. Realistically or not, many in the Kremlin worry that Russia might somehow be next. “The crucial role that young people played in those revolutions made us realize that something should be done,” says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected ideologue who helped found Nashi in 2004. “The plan was simple,” he explains. “We launched Nashi in towns close to Moscow so that activists could arrive overnight on Red Square, if needed. The idea was to create an ideology based on a total devotion to the president and his course.”
Nashi and other groups may be fanatically loyal to Putin, but their rhetoric and methods are more like a sinister parody of democracy movements in Ukraine and elsewhere. Much of their activity is orchestrated by Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s right-hand man for political and media issues, who meets regularly with the groups’ leaders to organize propaganda and political campaigns.
Not only does the Nashi youth organization advocate a powerful Russia with a strong president, but the organization also favors Russian expansionism, reports Spiegel Online.
“From a geographic and ethnic perspective, Ukraine and Russia belong much more closely together than Ukraine and the US,” says Nashi leader Borovikov.
Is he interested in fiddling with the region’s nation-state borders? Borovikov smiles and thinks about it for a bit. Then he says with a clear voice: “We are not interested in revisiting the borders drawn after World War II.” In other words, Russia should once again be as large as it was during Soviet times.
He goes on saying that many Russians and Ukrainians would be happy were the border between the two countries abolished. “But we have to see what the future brings,” he says. “Maybe one day we’ll live in a single nation once again.”
So why are Western companies such as Intel, Mercedes-Benz Russia, Tupperware, the consulting giant KPMG, and German conglomerate Siemens providing support for the event?
“[The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists] sent questions to the headquarters and Moscow offices of these companies, asking if they were aware of the Nashi movement’s role and actions at the Forum,” writes Shleynov.
Mercedes-Benz Russia claimed they only knew of the nature of the event after they had become a partner, saying, “If we do act as a sponsor again, we will demand that the organizer provides appropriate commitment that there will be no more extreme political actions.”
Tupperware and KPMG provided a similar response. “We did not note and are not aware of any political activities that took place during our involvement,” said a representative for KPMG.
Siemens participation in the event was limited to “a presentation about career opportunities” and Intel claims that the only support it provided to the event was computer equipment.
A video about the Nashi movement by the New York Times can be viewed here.