Are Nashi members joining the opposition?

Official “Nashi” logo.

It was an idea that some opposition members say would have made Adolph Hitler proud. In the second Putin term, the Kremlin came up with Russia’s version of what detractors likened to Germany’s Brown Shirts, a youth organization available for leaders to mold into Russia’s future voter base, and a loud and disruptive voice for the Kremlin to put up against opposition gatherings.

Then Dmitry Medvedev became president and Nashi was shoved into the background, their aggressive and sometimes violent style seen as unneeded in Medvedev’s new post-Putin Russia. The group laboured on but began to shrink in numbers and by 2011 the Kremlin had begun to close the funding faucet.

At the same time the nationalist theme of “Ours” and “Russia for Russians” was taken over by certain segments of the political opposition. This theme which had been cultivated by Kremlin strategists suddenly didn’t belong to the Kremlin any longer. Add age to the mix as Nashi members were typically teens to very young adults and their hero, Vladimir Putin. was aging. Watching your leaders grow old is not exactly the most exciting idea to a typical 22 year old.

So count it no surprise that Vasily Yakemenko, the founder of Nashi, has announced plans to create a new political party designed to attract the young, disaffected, middle-class voters who were drawn to the message of the opposition protesters. What, Nashi with the opposition?

It makes sense to some because from December forward when the Kremlin called on Nashi to rally and disrupt a December protest, many Nashi members had moved on. They’d found something they liked in the opposition’s anti-Putin message and were already out on the streets, only this time as members of the political opposition.

Curiously the Kremlin led group took on several web addresses, one being http://madeofsteel.ru and history buffs will quickly recognize the close resemblance to Joseph Stalin, the so-called “Man of Steel.” Stalin’s real name was Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili and the “man of steel” nickname was earned by his harsh style of dealing with party members who disagreed with Vladimir Lenin.

This Nashi banner advertised another (Стал=Steel) “man of steel” in Vladimir Putin, March 2012.

With Yakemenko’s announcement of plans to form an opposition party, the Party of Power, of course some observers are suspicious and quick to say that this is another “Trojan Horse” created by the Kremlin to siphon off young members of the opposition. Yakemenko says that his new party will target 25 to 35 year olds who “have their own opinions and don’t want important decisions in the country’s life to be made without them.

Further Yakemenko went on to say that “The generation whose thinking remains weighed down with ideas from Soviet times must be squeezed out of the ruling elite.”  Ouch, that sounds like a political charge aimed directly at Russia’s old-new president, Vladimir Putin. Yakemenko made that comment on the same day that he was replaced by the Kremlin as head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs which again has led some to suspect that the Kremlin is really the orchestration behind this latest move.

We’re not so certain. After viewing supposed “opposition” presidential candidate Mikhail Prohorov enjoy royal treatment as an elite guest among the select 3,000 persons invited to Mr. Putin’s recent inauguration, we’re more convinced that Prohorov might have been a Trojan Horse as opposed to a young idealistic nationalist who fits the opposition mold perfectly.

Yakemenko contends that Nashi youth have grown weary of watching their leaders grow richer at the expense of ordinary Russians. Could such a youth oriented political party attract Nashi rank and file members who have become disillusioned with the ruling United Russia party?

August 2005, Mr. Putin enjoying meeting members of the then newly formed “Nashi” Kremlin group.

Even while Yakemenko says that his platform would be taken from Russia’s popular internet bloggers, and these blogs read by millions weekly are often the heart and soul of the new modern opposition movement across Russia, plenty of skeptics remain. The name Vasily Yakemenko was so closely tied to the Kremlin that any move now seems to be suspect to many political commentators and Russian voters.

We have no crystal ball so, only time will tell.

For another angle on these developments we invite readers to read this late news story from the Moscow Times.