Gathered at a Cold War bunker, a yet-unnamed Russian youth organization is being conjured into life. Its mission? To launch an online information war to prevent an Arab Spring-type uprising in Russia.
On Wednesday, the project’s participants came together at Moscow’s Cold War Museum – also known as Bunker-42 – hidden 65 meters under Taganka, reports the Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG) newspaper.
The new group’s objective is believed to be the prevention of an Arab Spring scenario in Russia, and rallying support for Russia’s government. But the rules of the game – whose youthful participants will be led by experienced political players – are still not quite clear.
The organizers claim they have no government links and are not a pro-Kremlin movement. However, the paper does not rule out the possibility that the new organization could become the youth wing of the recently established All-Russia Popular Front, led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The coordinators of the meeting have known links to the pro-Putin movement, “Nashi” (Our People).
Artur Omarov, one of Nashi’s former leaders who now heads the fund “Youth policy-2020”, outlined on Wednesday the key tasks that would be set for the group’s young members. These include the creation of video clips for the Internet that could potentially become popular among web-surfers. The young activists will be provided with all the necessary equipment. In addition, they will have to attend lectures on “Russia and modern world order” as well as attend a course on how to promote information in the media.
Omarov stressed that there is no linkage between the new movement and the government. However, he confirmed that its activities will be sponsored by the state.
The group’s previous meeting – also a semi-secret one – was led by Vasily Yakemenko, the founder of Nashi group and the head of the Russian Federal Youth Agency (Rosmolodezh), on September 9.
A week prior to the gathering, students hanging out at Moscow cafes were handed envelopes containing invitations to the event, NG reported. The message read: “If you are happy with everything in your life, pass on the envelope to your neighbor.” Intrigued young people willing to find out what was it all about had to send a one-word text message – “Ready” – to organizers. Later, they received an SMS with the address and time of the meeting.
About 150 students turned up at the venue – a concert hall in the city center – to find out more about the development of the spy-game, NG wrote, citing an unnamed source. Enter Yakemenko.
Addressing the young audience from the stage, he referred to recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. “Internet and social networks played a key role in these revolutions,” he said. The opposition used the World Wide Web to inform citizens of the upcoming protests and to urge the overthrow of ruling regimes, Yakemenko noted.He added that the Russian leadership did not approve of such revolutions or of the online actions that preceded them.
Yakemenko announced that Rosmolodezh is looking for young activists who would become “the nation’s conscience on the Internet” and would form public opinion among its users. The job (unpaid though) would include the publishing of photos and videos on social networks and active participation in internet forum discussions. The movement’s participants would have to voice support for the government in their posts. By way of reward, they would gain popularity and possibly even personal sponsorship.
NG’s source noted that throughout the meeting Yakemenko repeatedly referred to the country’s leadership, but the only government figure name-checked was Putin. President Dmitry Medvedev, as well as the majority United Russia party, were not mentioned at all.
At the end of the session, Yakemenko invited the youngsters to add him as a friend on one of Russia’s popular social networking services where he is nicknamed as “Sponge Bob.”
Meanwhile, it is not only the “Sponge Bob” and his followers who are concerned about the danger posed by the growing influence of social networks. The idea of imposing control over the internet has been mulled worldwide after reports emerged on rioters in Egypt, Libya and even the UK using social networks to coordinate their activities.
On Wednesday, Russia’s prosecutor-general, Yury Chaika, stated that social networks must be monitored by the state in order to prevent London-style uprisings.
“You saw what happened in London,” he said at a meeting of the CIS Prosecutors-General Coordinating Council in Minsk. “In my opinion, the problem is evident and we need to bring social networks under reasonable control – simply to protect citizens’ freedoms.”
Russian bloggers were outraged by the idea, which they see as political censorship and an attack on freedom.