NOD is present at every major rally held in Russia today, the most vocal representative of a network of pro-Kremlin organizations that work under the “Anti-Maidan” banner to root out “national traitors” in media, business and politics.
A bridge near the Kremlin on which Boris Nemtsov was shot dead on February 27 now holds a solemn memorial. Volunteers pace up and down the line of red and white flowers, asking passers-by to sign a petition to rename the bridge after the late oppositionist activist. They claim to have 7,000 names so far. The most common excuse from those who decline is fear, they claim. People are worried that their names will show up in a government database and prefer to not to run the risk.
Provocations take place at least twice a week, with activists displaying the symbols of pro-Kremlin movements arriving on a regular basis to deface the commemorative posters and put their own vulgar signs up instead. The memorial has been wrecked twice, both times by members of the self-proclaimed “Russian Liberation Movement”, a small motley gang of tracksuit-clad men and women with Soviet WWII victory ribbons tied to their clothes.
Those gathering signatures claim just as many provocations come from people representing the “National Liberation Movement”, or NOD, a nationwide network of activists who hold regular pro-government rallies throughout Russia.
NOD’s activists were there when residents in Crimea’s port city of Sevastopol celebrated the anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation, blotting out the Russian tricolour with their black-orange striped flags. They were there when Orthodox activists in Siberia’s capital Novosibirsk rallied against the local theatre’s controversial adaptation of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”, holding up signs saying “No to Sodom on Russian soil” and “We demand a purge of the fifth column.”
NOD is present at every major rally held in Russia today, the most vocal representative of a network of pro-Kremlin organizations that work under the “Anti-Maidan” banner to root out “national traitors” in media, business and politics. With the state-sponsored narrative focused on presenting Ukraine’s present situation as the consequence of a deluded push for political change, resources are being pooled to rally the public behind the fight against those allegedly plotting a similar scenario in Russia. Putin has openly warned in recent weeks against the existence of destabilizing groups apparently planning to sabotage elections in 2016 and 2018. And on April 9, Russia’s Interior Ministry staged exercises aimed at suppressing the type of social unrest that led to Ukraine’s EuroMaidan revolution in late 2013, with more planned in the coming months.
The “Anti-Maidan” movement is tapping into a broader shift in public opinion towards anti-Western sentiment and cynicism towards the forces which one year ago toppled Ukraine’s president and are now leading that country’s painful and stuttering transition to the West. NOD, in this context, is particularly active. Since its founding in 2011 it has opened headquarters in nearly every Russian city and is campaigning for a referendum on constitutional change to be held this year. It is demanding a change to clauses 13.2, which forbids the existence of a state ideology, and 15.4, which recognizes the precedence of “universally accepted” principles over Russia’s legal system. Evgeny Fyodorov, a long-time State Duma deputy who is NOD’s coordinator, claims to have secured signatures from 25 fellow deputies and the support of various highly-placed figures.
For Fyodorov and his supporters, changing the constitution will pave the way for Russia to regain the sovereignty it lost with the Soviet collapse of 1991. Since then, they believe, Russia and other former Soviet states have been colonies of the U.S., whose informants and spies work inside government structures to dismantle the state from within. Boris Nemtsov was one of them. While NOD works to gain further support, its activists hold rallies across the country to publicize the cause and alert whoever cares to listen to the presence of further “traitors” that must be removed from the elite.
Fyodorov claims they’ve achieved a number of successes in recent weeks. On April 9 an investigation was launched into the activities of the federal agency for media development, Rospechat, which reports last week implicated in the funding of outlets with an “anti-state position”, such as radio station Ekho Moskvy and oppositionist channel Dozhd. NOD activists held a picket outside Rospechat’s offices to demand government action, and Fyodorov was particularly vocal in championing the case. He says he has received the personal backing of Russia’s Prosecutor General, who in part authorized the investigation into Rospechat’s finances.
The apparent increase in nationalist sentiment in Russia has received a lot of coverage, but many suggest the hunt for internal enemies and “fifth columnists” is a new phenomenon that has arisen against the backdrop of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine. That’s the conclusion of a recent report by SOVA, a Moscow-based think tank specializing in monitoring hate crimes in Russia. It identified NOD as the most active in the new wave of “Anti-Maidan” movements. The Kremlin may not give them direct support, according to SOVA’s head Alexander Verkhovsky, but it is under pressure to determine which of these groups will outdo its rivals and emerge as the state’s “official nationalist party”.
It’s just as likely that the government is batting an eyelid on the activists of NOD and other provocateurs, deeming official endorsement of their activities unnecessary at a time when those activities are already in line with its political aims. In the meantime, it seems, Fyodorov and NOD can feel confident that their aggressive campaign against the “fifth column” will not meet any meaningful resistance.