US embassy cable - 08MOSCOW2170


Identifier: 08MOSCOW2170
Wikileaks: View 08MOSCOW2170 at
Origin: Embassy Moscow
Created: 2008-07-28 11:59:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.

DE RUEHMO #2170/01 2101159
R 281159Z JUL 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 002170 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/28/2018 
REF: A. 08MOSCOW339 
     B. 08MOSCOW589 
     C. MOSCOW 3808 
     D. MOSCOW 12717 
Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Alice Wells 
for reason 1.4(d). 
1. (SBU) Summary. The Kremlin-sponsored Nashi youth group may 
not enjoy the same prominence under Medvedev, but its fourth 
annual summer conference at Lake Seliger in Tver Oblast 
reinforced continued and significant Kremlin and Russian 
Orthodox Church (ROC) sponsorship. Billed as an "Innovation 
Forum," the conference ostensibly served as a mechanism to 
organize and educate future leaders of Russia on economic 
matters. With Putin (but not Medvedev) posters aflutter, the 
camp focused more on Russian values, Russia's demographic 
crisis, and nationalist propaganda. Numerous Kremlin 
representatives visited the camp, candidly applauding 
programs that supported government policy, with the U.S. and 
Estonia coming under particular criticism. Kremlin 
propagandist Vladislav Surkov proclaimed Nashi's raison 
d'etre -- preventing a Russian "orange revolution" -- lost, 
and posited a changed (if undefined) role for Nashi 
activists. With Seliger 2008 attendance down by over 50% in 
comparison to the 2007 camp estimate, numerous experts 
questioned Nashi's ability to transition successfully from a 
mercenary protest group to a mainstream youth movement. End 
Camping with Nashi 
2. (SBU) PolOff attended the Kremlin-supported Nashi youth 
forum, the group's fourth annual conference held from July 12 
to 26, 2008, in Tver Oblast at Lake Seliger. Approximately 
4,500 youth activists participated in the camp known as 
"Seliger 2008," situated on pristine lakeside property in the 
midst of Russia's northern forests. Nashi organizers 
indoctrinated adherents in service to the motherland through 
two weeks of lectures, training, discussions, games, and 
"extracurricular" activities. Four years after its 
conception, Nashi activists foresaw a change in course away 
from organizing street protests and towards preparing 
Russia's future leaders.   During the forum, campers, ages 14 
to 30, self-selected themselves into several teams according 
to personal interests. Team identities included those focused 
on sovereignty and patriotism, arts and crafts, science and 
technology, tourism, economics, military service, and press 
relations. Activists from almost every Russian oblast, 
republic, and krai attended, as well as others from Belarus, 
Armenia, and Estonia. 
Nashi Seeks Relevance 
3. (C) With Medvedev reportedly lukewarm towards Nashi 
(reftel), the youth movement's leader Nikita Borovikov told 
us in a private conversation at Seliger that Nashi's 
transition to a more professional, refined organization 
reflected similar changes in Russia. Borovikov noted that 
Nashi continued to strengthen its activist ranks and 
maintained its importance in Russian politics, and he 
predicted a "great future" for the organization, despite not 
knowing what direction it would take. "We have a significant 
amount of support from the highest levels. You can see the 
number of highly positioned leaders that came to Seliger over 
the past two weeks. Nashi is a powerful movement in Russia," 
he noted. United Russia Duma deputy Sergei Markov noted to 
the press that the organization would survive, for leaving a 
politically educated youth group unsupervised in Russia was 
"not an option." During our discussion, Borovikov offered to 
invite American youth to the conference in 2009, noting that 
it would provide an opportunity for "greater understanding 
between our nations." With regards to his predecessor, Vasily 
Yakemenko, Borovikov only stated that Yakemenko's appointment 
to the Duma's Youth Affair's Committee could improve Nashi's 
government connections and position. 
Direction from the Top 
4. (SBU) While several highly positioned Kremlin officials 
descended on Lake Seliger again this year, their collective 
political prestige paled in comparison to that of the 
visitors to Seliger 2007. Most noticeably absent in 2008 were 
Russia's top leaders, Medvedev and Putin, both past visitors 
to Nashi conferences. According to press reports, Medvedev 
has found little value in Nashi and the tactics of its 
activists. Regardless, Nashi activists drew the participation 
of several leading Kremlin figures, including First Deputy 
Chief of the Presidential Administration and chief Kremlin 
propagandist Vladislav Surkov, First Deputy Premier Minister 
Igor Shuvalov, United Russia Secretary of the Presidium of 
the General Council Vyacheslav Volodin, Central Election 
Commission (CEC) head Vladimir Churov, and others. The fact 
that so many officials visited Lake Seliger was interpreted 
by political observers as evidence that the Kremlin sees 
value in keeping Nashi meetings. 
5. (C) Surkov used his July 21 visit to proclaim the death 
knell of the "orange revolution", thanking Nashi for its 
defense of Russia even as "color revolutions" surrounded the 
country. The statement marked the first time that an official 
has credited Nashi for its role in protecting Russian 
sovereignty. By claiming that the threat of revolution had 
passed, Surkov implicitly signaled that Nashi's raison d'etre 
had also expired, but suggested new horizons for the youth 
movement. Surkov focused the remainder of his speech on a 
favorite theme -- sovereign democracy -- saying that Russia 
must "build sovereignty on independence of political thought" 
so that the country can "fight for and compete for its place 
under the sun." He also echoed Borovikov's statements that 
Nashi is changing its mood and atmosphere, just as Russia's 
atmosphere, programs, and tasks are changing. 
6. (SBU) Nashi -- or its Kremlin organizers -- chose First 
Deputy Premier Minister Igor Shuvalov as the keynote speaker. 
Arriving in a black helicopter, he entered the camp donning a 
tight tee-shirt with the demographically promotional slogan, 
"Home. Wife. Kids. I love my family." Most thought Shuvalov 
would talk about economic matters, considering the focus on 
innovation. He spent most of his time, however, strutting 
through the camp surrounded by a cadre of guards, nodding in 
approval of everything he saw: group calisthenics, political 
lectures, and especially, a group of bikini-clad girls 
ostensibly studying the Russian Constitution. 
7. (SBU) United Russia Secretary of the Presidium of the 
General Council Vyacheslav Volodin's message to the campers 
was that Nashi produced a strong workforce reserve for 
Russia, and pointed to Nashi members actively participating 
in parliamentary affairs as representatives of youth 
movements. He stressed that these youth leaders are doing 
everything to make Russia effective and strong. 
Russia's Future Business Leaders 
8. (C) Seliger 2008's focus on economic training and 
workforce development took several manifestations. Nashi 
organizers replicated many Western educational conventions, 
especially those used in high school "Student Achievement" 
courses, including a mock stock market, play money called 
"talanty" used for camp purchases, and kitschy souvenir 
stands. The Alpali Company, led by renowned Russian financial 
expert Sergei Semyonov, created a mock stock market that 
followed the current indices for oil futures, gold, the 
Euro-U.S. Dollar rate, and the Japanese Yen-U.S. Dollar rate. 
80 Nashi activists participated in trading shares based on 
their accumulated stocks of "talanty." The winner, holding 
the highest-valued portfolio after one hour of trading, won a 
notebook computer. Semyonov told PolOff that the event 
proceeded as planned and reiterated his company's success in 
teaching economic concepts to Russian youth. 
9. (C) Most Nashi members reveled in the fact that 
representatives from GazProm and well-known banks came to 
hold camp lectures, but only a few acknowledged an 
understanding of the information. Those who did "get it" 
hoped for future job connections with powerful employers. For 
the rest, the most important lesson on economy came from the 
camp's financial backers. Numerous Russian firms, as well as 
the internationally renowned Adidas shoe company, underwrote 
the camp. One activist, Lena Kurskova, said that most could 
never afford the transportation costs to remote Lake Seliger 
without the financial support. For them, camp was free. Nashi 
activists were not shy in suggesting that the remainder of 
the funds came from Kremlin coffers. 
Promoting Social Values 
10. (SBU) Nashi activists took up Putin's exhortations for 
Russians to embrace a healthier lifestyle. Included in the 
camp regulations were prohibitions on cursing, smoking, and 
consuming alcoholic beverages, as well as mandatory 
attendance at all lectures, team activities, and events. 
Teams of "enforcers" circulated throughout the camp during 
activities and penalized those who violated the rules. Three 
strikes of any kind meant expulsion from camp. If that did 
not convince the most rebellious activists, camp 
administrators mandated that expelled campers would have to 
pay for their return trip. By the end of Seliger 2008, the 
camp expelled 25 activists for various violations. 
11. (C) Almost every Nashi activist, when asked about 
pressing issues in Russia, mentioned the demographic crisis. 
Most said that having large families was a national duty; a 
few mentioned it would stop the flow of immigrants looking 
for jobs. In an informal discussion, two girls in their late 
teens told PolOff that they looked forward to starting a 
family soon, and hoped to meet the right person at Seliger 
2008 or following conferences. Inspiration lay just down the 
trail. Organizers set aside a small campground, prominently 
located next to a marriage chapel, for Nashi couples that had 
wed. Nashi leaders posted a billboard with congratulatory 
messages next to their site. One couple in their early 20s 
proudly carried a 3-month old child, a legacy from Seliger 
2007. The majority of young women PolOff met pointed to 
inclusion in the circle of marriage as an important goal -- 
for personal and national reasons. 
12. (SBU) The demographic problem presented some 
controversial issues for the camp. At Seliger 2007, the 
preponderance of and condoning of sexual activity at the camp 
became a visible topic that continued to surface at Seliger 
2008. Last year, leaders apparently distributed condoms to 
activists, but this year had banned them after press 
scrutiny. Journalists at a July 18 press tour heard numerous 
rumors about "special tents" being set aside for lovers, and 
some campers claimed to rent empty tents to couples for fifty 
rubles per hour. Camp administrators denied the claims, but 
they did not allow journalists to visit the tent cities, 
doing little to dispel the rumors. However, one official made 
his stance clear: First Deputy Vice Premier Shuvalov bought a 
Nashi t-shirt from a camp artist that featured two happy 
rabbits holding hands. The slogan read, "To Reproduce is 
Useful and Fun." 
The Influence of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
13. (SBU) Russian Orthodox ideology figured prominently at 
Seliger. From the one ROC priest in attendance at past 
conferences, more than five priests attended the camp in 
2008. One priest conducted a lakeside service on July 23 
attended by about 75 camp activists, during which he baptized 
two new believers. The priest preached a fiery sermon, 
calling for the removal of alcohol, drugs, and smoking from 
Russian society as "diseases that continue to harm us." Yet 
most Nashi members, on their lunch break, did not observe the 
sermon or ceremony. In fact, during the press tour, we 
witnessed only a few camp visitors to a wooden ROC chapel, 
built by unknown funders and decorated with icons in the 
central square of the camp. But its prominent location left 
little doubt: the ROC's influence on Nashi was on the rise. 
14. (SBU) A Nashi team called "Russian Steel" designed an 
Orthodox religious project representing heaven and hell 
located next to the chapel. Those that ascended a set of ten 
stairs, each labeled by one of the Ten Commandments, opened a 
door at the top that concealed a mirror, etched with the face 
of Jesus Christ. At the bottom of the stairs, activists had 
dug a pit covered with a door labeled "Hell." Smoke emanated 
from the chamber, warning transgressors of what would befall 
Nationalism: Nashi's Wheelhouse 
15. (SBU) Camp activists erected numerous displays of 
national pride, one of Nashi's core themes. Russian flags 
littered the campground. While pictures of Medvedev were 
nowhere to be found, pictures of Putin hung from tent poles, 
trees, and banners. One group organized a Vladimir Putin Fan 
Club, creating a silkscreen poster reminiscent of Andy 
Warhol. The first group from Chechnya to ever attend a 
Seliger conference built a tarpaulin wall around their tents 
and decorated it with photos and drawings of Chechen 
President Ramzan Kadyrov. Someone had even built a shrine to 
Boris Yeltsin in the forest, tastefully done with candles, 
photos, and flowers. 
16. (C) In addition to numerous banners that slandered the 
United States, Ukraine, and Georgia as enemies of Russian 
sovereignty, numerous posters and pictures supported Serbia 
and opposed the independence of Kosovo. The most well 
publicized political display at Seliger 2008 concerned a pig 
-- cared for by a "Russian Steel" camper dressed as Uncle Sam 
-- named after Estonian President Toomas Indrik Ilves. An 
obvious stab at Estonia as a U.S. puppet, Russian Steel was 
only one of many Nashi groups to mock Estonia. Each year, 
Nashi activists have performed "actions" to show their 
displeasure with foreign interference in Russian affairs, 
this time focusing on Estonia's decision to move a World War 
II era bronze statue of a Russian soldier to the outskirts of 
Tallinn. An Estonian radio journalist covering the conference 
told PolOff that his fellow citizens would be offended by 
these events, noting that he saw his country's decision as 
their own "act of sovereignty." But he also expressed 
excitement that Estonians would hear the stupidity of 
"Russian Steel" activists the following day on his radio 
17. (C) Roman, an ethnic Russian living in Estonia, told 
PolOff that as one of fifteen Estonian citizens that are also 
Nashi activists, he walked a fine line at the camp. "I am 
constantly berated for my nationality, but excused because I 
am Russian. Most initially disliked me because I hung an 
Estonian flag on my tent. It took patience for them to see 
that I support the movement." But, he reluctantly added, "the 
guys from Russian Steel go too far in their jokes against 
countries like Estonia, and it hurts Nashi's image." He later 
noted that Estonian officials had blamed him, as well as some 
other Estonian citizens that are Nashi members, for starting 
the riots in Tallinn last year concerning the bronze statue. 
He claimed Estonian officials threatened of future "problems" 
should he continue his membership in Nashi. As a result, he 
hoped to immigrate to Russia in the near future. 
18. (C) With the election campaign and supposed threat of 
revolution behind them, Nashi appears temporarily rudderless. 
Yet, the camp's high level of organization, funding, and 
Kremlin support indicate that the movement will remain 
active, even if not influential. Converting a reactionary 
youth movement into a force for real change remains a huge 
challenge for the Kremlin. Whether corporate sponsors will 
combine forces with the Russian Orthodox Church to shape a 
new "ideal" Russian citizen, void of vice and bent on 
innovation, salvation, and procreation, remains to be seen. 
If Nashi adjusts its mantra successfully, it will have to 
rely on fewer leaders - Seliger 2008 attracted less than 
5,000 people, a sharp reduction from the estimated 10,000 who 
took part in 2007. The fact that Medvedev's picture was 
nowhere to be found appears to be a pragmatic Nashi 
calculation of who controls their political fortunes. 

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