Switching Allegiance

July 1, 2013
Yakemenko and Nashi/Vladimir Filonov / MT

The instruments that Yakemenko used to fight the opposition – drums and girls in bikini, a toilet bowl and sex to fight corruption – have been placed on a back burner. The pro-Kremlin youth swears allegiance to others. There are rumors that the Seliger thing is on its way out, and there is a rift in the “Nashi” movement. Is there life after Yakemenko? That’s what a “Novaya” correspondent tried to find out.

Potupchik and the Dwarfs

A year ago we found out that Ms. Kristina Potupchik leaves the ranks of the “Nashi” leaving behind the “hard working dwarfs,” because she got tired. Her resignation from the spokesperson position logically fits the general trend: Mr. Surkov left the Presidential Administration for the “White House,” Mr. Yakemenko left the Federal Youth Agency, and the “Nashi” movement activities gradually fizzled out.

Today Ms. Potupchik is the leading Kremlin specialist on Internet projects and media (that’s how she was dubbed by “Izvestia,” and eventually by the rest of the mass media), in charge of the FOND (The Foundation for Open New Democracy), an organization that supports non-profit social internet projects. Last February some sources in Kremlin tipped “Izvestia” that the FOND had plans to come under supervision of the Internal Policy Department of the Presidential Administration (PA). Their direct supervisor would be Mr. Timur Prokopenko, the Deputy Chief.

Ms. Potupchik neither confirmed, nor denied that the Administration participates in her new project. “So far there is not much to support, really. What you are trying to divide between me, the PA, the Kremlin and other organizations is not just some skin of a bear who hasn’t been caught yet. That bear is yet to be born.” It is to be recalled that in February at a news conference on establishing the FOND Ms. Potupchik promised that her work would bring some initial results by summer. “I was too optimistic. Before I really never had to deal with the bureaucracy.” When asked whether she collaborates with the PA in some other forms, Ms. Potupchik tried to turn her answer into a joke: “Well, you know, a lot of media write a lot of things.”

According to our source in Kremlin, Ms. Potupchik and the former “Young Guard” leader are in charge of the mass media in the PA. Mr. Volodin’s right hand, Mr. Prokopenko does the same job as his predecessors: Pavel Zenkovich, Konstantin Kostin and Aleksey Chesnakov. He calls newspapers and TV channels, “resolving issues.”

According to our source, it’s really easy to determine whether Ms. Potupchik is close to the Kremlin. “Mr. Volodin has a nemesis – Valery Rushkin, a communist, that pummels him whenever he has a chance. So, if Ms. Potupchik fights Mr. Rushkin in her blog, that means she is with Mr. Volodin.”

Volodin is infuriated

Last May Yakemenko declared that he would create and head a new “Ruling Party” – an idea that was approved by Mr. Volodin. The ex-leader of the “Rosmolodezh” was very enthusiastic about bringing to power “people of the future” by 2016. However by late summer there appeared some rumors about issues with registration, and by January it transpired that the project would be shut down. The “Ruling Party” didn’t get the necessary financing. “If anybody tries to create a party with the money from the “United Russia,” the result will be the “United Russia.” Nobody else has the money in this country,” Yakemenko said explaining why his project never got off.

Alexei Makarkin, the Deputy Director of the Center for Political Technologies believes that the project was shut down not so much because Mr. Yakemenko’s patron, Mr. Surkov had fallen into disfavor, but rather because the new party could get some of the votes reserved for the “United Russia” in the regions. “In part this was precipitated by the very name of that party, that was quite misleading for many,” he says. According to a source close to the Kremlin, shutting down the new party project fits well in the general trend. “Everyone at some point got something: Yakemenko got a party, Sergei Minaev got a TV channel, Anatoly Lysenko got the Public TV, and Konstantin Kostin got a fund. However, time has shown that sooner or later their projects are shut down or lose their clout,” Mr. Makarkin notes.

Once done with the party project Mr. Yakemenko started a business. He opened a café. For one reason or another – either the business wasn’t profitable, or his ambitions were not fulfilled – but a year later Yakemenko resurfaced. In May it was reported in the media, that at Seliger Yakemenko met with the “commissars,” who earlier participated in various pro-Kremlin youth projects, such as “Nashi,” “Stal’” and “Iduschie Vmeste”. It was decided to launch a movement tentatively called “Iskrenne Vashi” (Sincerely Yours), that would be involved not in politics, but in public projects. Interestingly, the media presented this news as a “schism among the former commissars”. According to “Izvestia,” most of the “commissars,” as well as Ms. Potupchik did not participate. Mr. Yakemenko refused to comment.

Our source among the “commissars” who participated in the event, said that meetings like this have been going on for the last 9 years. Usually in Pskov, but this year on Seliger. “They are going to discard Seliger, and we have to reinvent it,” he said. The source who talked to “Novaya” is sure that if Mr. Volodin hadn’t interfered, nobody would ever found out about that event. “In “Izvestia” (where an article was published about a division of the “Nashi” into two camps) Volodin demanded that we distanced from those activists to show that the political wing of the movement had been transferred under his command. In fact the Deputy Head of the PA put them in a situation where they would have to make a choice,” he says. According to our information, about 800 people participated in the event. They all support Putin, but not “professionally,” that is they are not part of any projects, associated with the Kremlin. The 200 people who refused to participate, including Ms. Potupchik, work for the Kremlin. Mr. Surkov has nothing to do with the “Iskrenne Vashi”.

A source close to Yakemenko & Co. believes that Mr. Volodin is trying to root out everything that Mr. Surkov has left behind, just like Putin tries to get rid of anything associated with Medvedev.

He is frustrated by the fact that Yakemenko doesn’t want to work for him. However, he never offered him anything serious. The event on Seliger wasn’t taken too well by the Administration, because nobody is allowed to get together 800 people without a special occasion and without paying for it. That is Yamekenko’s resource. That means that this major pro-Putin project is not controlled by the Kremlin, and this is Volodin’s oversight. That’s why he is so mad.

According to Makarkin, Yakemenko is putting together that movement hoping to stay in the public-political domain. “I don’t think he’s trying to attack head on, or has something against Volodin. Yakemenko is trying to launch a movement having in mind that movements in Russia cannot participate in elections. He is trying to prove his positive approach,” he says. Our source in the Kremlin disagrees. He thinks that Yakemenko is trying to distance himself from all this as far as he can.

“He was never serious about going into restaurant business, and the “Iskrenne Vashi” are not even a spoiler. Yakemenko does everything he can to show that he has nothing to do with those kids. Imagine you’re leaving some place but planning to come back one day. You have an opportunity to leave some people over there who would be sitting on the money and preserving the organization. Wouldn’t you take that chance and put on a show?”

A revolt of the angels

The main page of the “Nashi” website hasn’t been updated for over a month. The latest news – an official statement on the Seliger gathering is all about the founder of the project, Vassily Yakemenko, and is downright aggressive in nature. The “nascisti” declare that they do not support the event that was organized at the initiative of some “commissars.” “Those who went to Seliger and those who make the “Nashi” agenda, have different visions of the future,” the statement says. It is the activists’ belief that supporting Putin’s policies is not something to be debated or questioned at some private gatherings.

Today the “Nashi” movement is overhauling its membership in the regions. That’s what Ms. Anastasia Fedorenchik, the spokesperson for the movement says. However, a source close to Yakemenko has some different information: the “Nashi” movement does not exist. It is to be noted, that the “Smart Russia” that was created based on the “Nashi,” is quite active in the regions. The “smart Russians” are setting up their branches all over Russia to participate in the general elections, to come up with their candidates and fill the polling stations with their observers.

The source close to the PA explains the demise of the “Nashi” movement by success of some opposition actions, which made it clear that the “nascisti” are paid to take to the streets, and the Kremlin do not have activists comparable to those who naturally ended up on Bolotnaya Square. “The point of no return was Manezhnaya Square, that they struggled to fill up with just 3 thousand people (they ran out of money), claiming 50 thousand. Basically it was the “Nashi” who set Surkov up. That was his concept: in no way should you let people take to the streets on their own initiative.

Let’s remind, that Yakemenko founded the “Nashi” movement to fend off a threat of an “orange revolution”. However once it became obvious that the enemy is from within, it was no longer necessary to look for outside foes. But the rules of war against your own are different.

According to a “Volodin’s method,” people should take to the streets not for money. They should be afraid to lose what they have. If you work for “Gazprom,” your obligation is to put on thermal underwear and take to the streets. “That’s how they got all those people to Poklonnaya Hill and proved effective the old Soviet method: a worker who participates in the May 1 demonstration gets a day off,” the Kremlin source says.

Unlike Mr. Surkov, Mr. Volodin is a politician, not a technician. A politician is a person who lies and believes his own lies. “That’s why Putin likes him so much. Volodin is unreserved in his hatred towards enemies and traitors,” the PA source says. He reminds that under Surkov the political history was made based on an expert field, albeit fake.

The authorities tried to balance the situation – to bring in an alternative opinion. Mr. Volodin demonstrated that trying to preserve some kind of balance is nothing but the intellectuals’ trick. At the same time the government has a very short bench. It needs people who execute orders and have no qualm about switching allegiance. Yakemenko is Surkov’s man, and Potupchik is just someone who executes the order. I don’t think Surkov and his team have been destroyed. Acting in the best Surkov’s tradition they just set themselves up deliberately, to leave just on time and not be responsible for anything that follows. Because today the political playing field is simplified and cleansed to such an extent, that all this can only be considered some kind of sabotage, including against the authorities.