It looks like Nashi is up to its tricks again. According to news reports, Anthony Brenton, the British Ambassador to Russia, has filed a formal complaint to the Russian Foreign Ministry, claiming that Nashi members have been “psychologically harassing” him. Nashi’s harassment of Brenton is not directly linked to the Litvinenko murder per se, though the incident has certainly heightened political tensions between Russian and British officials, but the fact that he has emerged as a harsh critic of Russia’s human rights record. “It is a deliberate psychological harassment which is done professionally and which borders on violence,” says Mr Brenton. He also claims that Nashi’s activities could not be without Kremlin sanction.
Whether Nashi is being directed by the Kremlin to harass Brenton is immaterial. There is nothing to suggest that they can’t organize and execute such campaigns on their own. In fact, I would gather that the anti-Brenton campaign is by their own initiative; initiative that the Kremlin isn’t going to simply shun. Kremlin officials, especially Putin’s chief architect of ideology, Vladislav Surkov, meet regularly with Nashi, making Moscow’s endorsement of the movement is unmistakable. And Nashi activists know this and see it as an implicit mandate for their activities. Nashi has become one of the populist means to intimidate those it has deemed enemies of Russia and Putin. Welcome to the Komsomol reincarnate.
The Telegraph reports:
For nearly five months, Nashi activists have picketed both the British embassy and Mr Brenton’s residence, heckled virtually every speech he has given, followed his car and even posted details of his itinerary on their website — a move that has raised fears for the ambassador’s security.
Mr Brenton’s woes began in July, shortly before Russia hosted its first ever G8 summit, when he addressed an opposition conference despite Kremlin warnings that his presence would be viewed as “an unfriendly gesture”. Though the speech itself was fairly anodyne, Mr Brenton was the only western diplomat to speak at the “Alternative Russia” gathering, a gesture that incensed Mr Putin.
The president accused the ambassador of seeking “to influence the internal balance of power in Russia”.
Nashi’s campaign began shortly afterwards. Last night a spokesman for the British embassy said that the ambassador had received assurances that the matter would be dealt with.
It seems inconceivable that Nashi could be acting without the tolerance of the Kremlin. Although it denied harassing the ambassador, Nashi has pledged to continue its campaign until Mr Brenton apologizes for attending the “Alternative Russia” summit.
The most recent harassment of Brenton occurred at Moscow’s Humanities University where Nashi members heckled him with “Brenton, apologize!” as he stood next to British playwright Tom Stoppard, who is Moscow to promote his play about Russian 19th century intellectuals. This was followed by another incident in Samara. After a meeting with the governor of Samara, Brenton was confronted by about 25 Nashi activists led by Tikhon Chumakov and Aleksei Flora. According to the youth organization’s website,
After [Brenton] noticed the Nashi commissars, he immediately entered the building of Britain Council of Samara. He pointed his finger at Aleksei Flora, and after standing confused for a few seconds, turned and went away with his companion. The commissars could not simply forgive of the ambassador’s sympathy for fascists and went after him shouting “Brenton is a coward!” and “Brenton, apologize!”
The ambassador could only get away from Nashi only by car. That evening Anthony Brenton left Samara.
There is even a video of the incident.
Brenton is lucky to simply be a victim of heckling and “psychological harassment.” He could after all be subject to the tactics they use against rival youth organizations. As Mark Grueter wrote about Nashi in May this year:
Either way, one might take a bit of solace in realizing that a government which feels a need to establish street-thug organizations in order to defend itself reveals not strength but weakness. The Tsar was inept and desperate and his repressive attempts at counter-revolution, his support for the Black Hundreds, only led to civil war and his eventual blood-soaked overthrow. Where will Putin’s counter-reforms lead us?
What is worrisome about the Nashists, however, is their alleged connection to the country’s burgeoning neo-Nazi skinhead population. Jake Rudnitsky of the eXile reported the following in February: “It’s an open secret that Nashi security, at least at its Moscow events, is provided by Spartak football hooligans with ties to racist skinheads.” I’m also told that United Russia (Putin’s political party and practically the only party in the country) in Vladivostok openly collaborates with neo-Nazis to defend its interests on the streets. Putin is a shrewd politician, preaching anti-fascism on one hand (indeed the Nashi outfit is sold to the public as an antifascist one) while simultaneously employing xenophobic rhetoric himself. Rudnitsky concludes his piece on skinheads, “If anything, they’re [Kremlin operatives] interested in co-opting the fascists and turning them into a politically useful tool in case of a threat from an Orange — or a National-Bolsheviks — revolution.” But there is no real threat, not now anyway. And further study is needed on just how closely Nashists and Nazis (to the extent that there’s a difference) are indeed colluding.
“Colored Revolution” looks as bleak as it did earlier this year, but the wonderful thing about enemies is that they can easily be found elsewhere. It seems that Nashi has found there’s in Mr. Brenton, who has become their current symbol for anti-Russian and anti-Putin forces.