The Pop Fop

Snobbery & Decay

Moscow Times: Between the Lines

Getting accurate and unbiased news on Russia from the Western press is like getting blood from a stone.  Because of this, Russia Today is usually the best source for English language Russian news.  As Russia Today is state-owned it is often accused of being wanton propaganda.  While there is no question that it aims to put the Kremlin in a positive light, the accuracy of it’s reporting remains unaffected.  Similarly, The New York Times could convincingly be described as propaganda for America’s ruling class.  Unlike Russia Todayit could be argued that this ideological bias has had a deleterious effect on the veracity of it’s reporting.

This post is about The Moscow Times, however.  Specifically, this article on Vasily Yakemenko, former leader of the now defunct Putinist youth group Nashi.  The article in question is rather strange and contains key phrases and odd statements which I intend to analyze.  I suggest reading the article first because I’m not going to summarize it but merely examine certain sections of it.

Before I continue I also want to explain that Moscow Times is an English language newspaper published in Russia and owned by a Finnish media company.  The Times makes no qualms about the fact that it is critical of the Putin regime.  Given the geopolitical history between Finland and Russia, it is not surprising that a Finnish-owned publication would be wary of Russian power.  In fact, the more revanchist elements of Russian politics openly espouse incorporating Finland into a revitalized Russian Empire.  Now while Finland can certainly be described as Western in an ideological sense (globalist, democratic, neoliberal), it’s certainly not as severe in this inclination as the United States, Britain, or even Sweden.  As such, it is possible that they have different intelligence sources which accounts for the oddness of the article.

The article begins with the history of the Nashi which the author describes as,

a Kremlin response to youth organizations in Serbia and Georgia that took an active role in Western-backed anti-authoritarian revolutions.

While Bratersky acknowledges that the “color revolutions” were Western backed (one might say Western proxies is a more accurate description), he diffuses the air of inauthenticity this might bring by describing them as anti-authoritarian.  While here in the USA, “anti authoritarian” is often a euphemism for anarchist, in this context it seems to be a euphemism for democratic in the narrow Anglo-American sense denoting representative government beholden to financial interests.  Given George Soros’ involvement in the “color revolutions”, this seems to be the most accurate definition.

Strangely enough, Bratersky then offers an example of Nashi extremism which sounds rather similar to the behavior of Western antifascists:

At Seliger 2010, members of Nashi’s radical wing, Stal, displayed portraits of opposition leaders’ heads mounted on stakes and sporting hats with swastikas.

The article then goes on to describe Yakemenko’s conversion from Kremlin insider to peripheral friend of the democratic opposition.  Initially, however, his intentions seem based on pure self interest rather than ideological change of heart.

A recent meeting with allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny left Yakemenko with a bitter feeling.

“They’ve told me they’re going to imprison people close to Putin, including me,” Yakemenko said. “If people say, ‘We’re going to throw you in jail,’ who’d give them power?”

A source with ties to the opposition movement recently told The Moscow Times that Yakemenko is among several politicians who would be punished if the scales of power tipped in the opposition’s favor.

“If those people don’t understand that in our country we shouldn’t destroy one another, then it’ll remain a matter of who is stronger,” Yakemenko said.

Yakemenko recently announced that he had asked associates at the Kamaz truck manufacturing facility to help fund photojournalist Ilya Varlamov, a popular member of the opposition-minded blogging community.

“I thought of him as a bright representative of civic journalism,” Yakemenko said of Varlamov.

From leader of a government youth group to proponent of civic journalism, you’ve come a long way, baby!  To prove that this change is the result of political, not occupational, differences, Yakemenko specifically singles out the Putin regime:

“For many years, my task was to prevent an Orange Revolution. Today, it is a new aristocracy that threatens our sovereignty,” Yakemenko said.

The phrase “new aristocracy” is an interesting choice, especially as it bears more than a slight resemblance to the title of a book by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan on the Russian intelligence service, FSB, and its close connection to the Putin regime.  In fact, Yakemenko uses the phrase again when he states, 

“This is a conflict between the new aristocracy and the so-called people of the future,” Yakemenko said. “There is a need for a leader who can assume power for those people.”

He named a former Nashi patron, former Deputy Chief of Staff Vladislav Surkov, among those “people of the future.”

This is where the article takes it’s strangest turn: naming Vladislav Surkov as someone who would oppose the Putin regime and prove to be a leading force for the opposition.  Just read this excellent article from the London Review of Books which effectively describes Surkov as the éminence grise of the Putin regime.

Of course, for Yakemenko and Surkov this could be just another example of the Machiavellian maneuvers which make up Russian politics.  Create a false rift in the ruling party cabinet and in the process get a bit closer to the opposition.

Whatever the reasons, consider the differences in ideology with regards to a ruling power in the following quotes.  Firstly, Yakemenko expresses the democratic disappointment with the role the Putin regime,

The ruling class is not producing anything,” Yakemenko said. “While once this group resolved issues, now it is just doing harm. Today, no one can say where we are headed and why Putin has become the president for a third term.”

And now consider this excerpt from Borogan & Soldatov’s The New Nobility on the supposedly sinister nature of the FSB and the way it has been shaped by Putin:

For many years, the green uniforms of the FSB closely resembled those of the army.  In fact, the two institutions were distinctly separate, the idea being that supervisor and supervised should not mix.  In 2006, Putin went a step further and signed a decree changing the Russian security services’ uniform from green to black.  The color of night has never been popular with the Russian special forces, but Putin’s decision was driven by historical symbolism - a nod to a moment during the civil war of the 1920s when the White Army, losing its fight against the Bolsheviks, found inspiration by creating units peopled with officers dressed in black uniforms.  They wore tunics as a symbol of their scorn for earthly goods and were strictly religious.  The regiment of Lieutenant General Sergey Markov called itself a “brotherhood of monastic knights who sacrificed liberty, their blood, and their lives for Russia.”  This chapter of history continues to shape the thinking of those individuals serving in the FSB today.