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The Ultimate Conspiracy Theory

A new nationalist group in Russia believes their country has been occupied by the Americans, who have been drafting Russia's laws. From openDemocracy.

by Alexander Litoy 6 June 2014

Events in Ukraine have set new standards for Russian patriotism. Rooting out and dealing with traitors is now the official line coming from Vladimir Putin. Yevgeny Fyodorov, a Duma Deputy and United Russia man, duly set up the National Liberation Movement (NLM) to garner popular support for the official introduction of censorship, the establishment of a government ideology, and an end to Russia's international obligations.

 

RUSSIA IS UNDER OCCUPATION

 

“We see that Putin is starting to muster his forces for a general attack, a revolt against the occupiers. Foreign agents, or anyone who might be one, have been purged and this is being done completely openly,” Fyodorov said at an NLM rally.

 

Members of the National Liberation Movement at a rally in St. Petersburg on 12 June 2013, Russia Day. Photo from the NLM VKontakte page.

 

Fyodorov supporters come to street rallies with portraits of Stalin, Putin, and the black and orange ribbons that used to adorn the military Order of St. George but are now widely used as a patriotic symbol. They are convinced that their country has been occupied by the Americans, who, they say, are even drawing up Russian laws, for subsequent rubber-stamping by the Duma. According to the NLM, the Americans have been in control of United Russia, the ruling party, since 2003.

 

With confidence, Fyodorov states that “Duma deputies are simply officials in occupied territory. All the laws regulating the system of governance passed by the Duma have been drafted in the U.S.A.”

 

This belief, however, has not prevented Fyodorov from being a member of the United Russia General Council or from making 165 interventions in today's “colonial” State Duma and, since 2012, presenting more than 500 draft laws, with a pass rate in the lower chamber of more than 50 percent.

 

Fyodorov, in fact, is one of the longest-standing members of the Russian parliament. He was first elected in 1993; in 1999, he was a founder of the Medved [bear] bloc, which then became United Russia. Between 2006 and 2011, he headed the parliamentary Economic Policy Committee, having previously held high-ranking posts in the presidential administration and the finance atomic energy ministries.

 

Fyodorov is now head of the parliamentary club 'For Sovereignty,' with members from all four parties represented in the Duma. The club's initiatives include the introduction of criminal liability for advocating separatism, and the creation of a system of perks for companies with less than 10 percent foreign capital. Club members recently called for criminal charges to be brought against Mikhail Gorbachev – for causing the collapse of the USSR.

 

ROOT AND BRANCH REFORM

 

NLM says that it is willing to overthrow “American colonialism” peacefully and democratically. To that end, close associates of Fyodorov are pushing for a referendum to assist Russians in their attempts to amend the “colonial constitution.” The new “national” constitution will have no ban on either censorship or a state ideology; the country will no longer submit to the sovereignty of international law, and the central bank will be answerable to the government. The NLM considers that, by nationalizing the central bank, it will be possible to do away with “linking the ruble to the dollar.”

 

The National Liberation Movement regards Vladimir Putin as its leader, though Fyodorov says that he does not agree his battle tactics with the president. Rather, the movement considers that Putin, to all intents and purposes, supports it, a belief that, it says, has roots in his recent actions. “The people expect some actions from the president, and the president from the people,” explains NLM spokeswoman Aminat Anchokova. In Fyodorov's view Putin will not attempt total regime change without massive popular support and NLM is trying to help him to achieve this. 

 

GROWING SUPPORT

 

The National Liberation Movement was founded in 2011, though Fyodorov supporters complain on their website that “hostile” media outlets keep quiet about their activities. What is more likely is that the NLM rallies were simply of little interest to the media.

 

In recent months, however, NLM has regularly featured on TV screens, because its street protests support Putin's foreign policy. Moreover, the NLM regional network has been growing since the start of the troubles in Ukraine and now covers dozens of cities throughout Russia. The official NLM site maintains that there are branch offices in 260 cities throughout Russia's 85 regions. This would appear to be true: an examination of social media accounts belonging to NLM cell leaders shows that they are not “virtual people” but committed activists. The NLM site has contact details for both urban and district offices; by no means does every Russian political party have such a well-distributed network. Photographs show that NLM protest meetings attract hundreds of people, many of whom are people aged between 20 and 30. The growing number of NLM supporters can also be gauged by Fyodorov’s page on VKontakte, with more than 50,000 followers.

 

National Liberation Movement members see a Russia infiltrated by Americans intent on undermining their country. Image from the NLM VKontakte page.

 

NLM enjoys the support of some businessmen: it runs a club called National Business with some 80 small- to medium-size businesses as members, so theoretically Fyodorov's movement could finance itself, without the need for (possible) Kremlin funding.

 

Fyodorov maintains that he is setting up NLM International with headquarters in Minsk, Belarus, for anti-American movements drawn from the rest of the world. There are also branches in Ukraine, Moldova, and Kazakhstan. One notes that Belarus, Moldova, and Kazakhstan are the former Soviet countries in which Putin might yet perceive a need to “protect Russian speakers.”

 

The dense network of NLM branches in Ukraine and Crimea came into being in January, just before the Yanukovych regime collapsed. The ruling Party of Regions publicity system was already in a state of disintegration, and one of the first “anti-Maidan” groups in social media was on VKontakte:  “Berkut, the bulwark of calm” was set up in part by Fyodorov's supporters [Berkut, or Golden Eagle, was the special police unit notorious for violence during Maidan and subsequently disbanded. They have now re-formed in eastern Ukraine].

 

NLM is clearly overstating its role in events in Crimea and southeastern Ukraine, when it describes itself as one of the main enemies of ultra right-wing Pravyi sektor (Right Sector), but Fyodorov supporters do regularly make appearances in video recordings of pro-Russian rallies of various kinds.

 

THE HEAVIES

 

Indeed, regional supporters of Fyodorov are regularly at the center of local rows, doing battle with members of the opposition. In Tyumen, a master class by opposition TV presenter Kseniya Sobchak was canceled at the insistence of NLM activists, who complained to the authorities that she was “attacking the moral and spiritual foundations of Russian national culture.”

 

In Zlatoust (Ural Mountains) the NLM is doing battle with the “Workers' rights” movement, set up to defend the interests of workers sacked from the local steel works. The workers' protests have already descended to the level of fisticuffs with, among others, NLM activists. In Samara and Nizhniy Novgorod, NLM activists tried to disrupt protests in support of people who had taken part in protests on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square.

 

On 6 March, ex-Pussy Rioters Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Mariya Alyokhina visited Nizhniy Novgorod, in connection with their human rights project, “The zone of rights” (or “Law Zone”). Early that morning they went into McDonald's near the station there and were attacked by young men who poured green disinfectant over them, hurled metal objects at them, and insulted them. Alyokhina was concussed and Tolokonnikova received burns to her skin and her eyes.

 

The attackers were soon identified; Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina posted their photos on the Internet. Although the local NLM branch denies any part in the incident, the attackers' VKontakte [Russian Facebook equivalent] pages show that the hooligans are Fyodorov sympathizers.

 

After investigating the case for one month, the local police found no grounds for bringing criminal charges and fined the thugs between 500 and 1,000 rubles ($14 and $28). Igor Kalyapin, well-known human rights campaigner and head of the Committee against Torture, based in Nizhniy Novgorod, maintains that the published photographs show not only the thugs who attacked Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova, but officers from the local Center E [an anti-extremism unit of the police often deployed against opponents of the government – TOL] as well.

 

The ZEITGEIST

 

The prospects for Fyodorov's “battle with the Americans” are hard to calculate: events in southeastern Ukraine are making rapid changes to Russia's political landscape, and it is difficult to say to what extent the national-patriotic lobby inside the Kremlin has the ability to become any more powerful.

 

Nevertheless, anti-American feeling and the perception of the United States as Russia's strategic enemy have been much in evidence throughout Russia since the 1990s, and these ideas effectively received the stamp of government approval from the moment Putin was re-elected president in 2012. The U.S.-Russia confrontation is a regular subject of discussion on state-controlled TV channels (which is most of them).

 

 

 

The results of this propaganda took no time at all to make themselves felt. At the end of April, the Levada Center the main independent polling and sociological research organization in Russia) carried out a survey looking at Russian perceptions of Americans. Forty-eight percent of respondents were of the opinion that in its relations with the United States, Russia “should keep its distance.” Clearly, Fyodorov is tapping into this anti-American feeling.

 

Despite this, Fyodorov has not been hugely successful in his public discussions with opponents. In February 2011, almost a year before the massed “white ribbon” uprising of 2011-2012, he lost out to Aleksei Navalny, one of the Russian opposition leaders, in debates on the Finam FM radio station. Ninety-nine percent of listeners supported Navalny, but only 1 percent were prepared to vote for Fyodorov.

 

But while leading pro-Kremlin political commentators (Dmitry Orlov, Sergei Markov, and Aleksei Mukhin) point out that Fyodorov is very inclined to conspiracy theories, and many Russians might well think that his views tend to the extreme, at this moment they fit in with the zeitgeist.

Alexander Litoy is a freelance journalist in Moscow, specializing in socio-political issues and extremism among the youth. This article originally appeared on openDemocracy.net.

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