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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Offensive Nature of Nashi Defense

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When activists from the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi broke into the offices of the newspaper Argumenty i Fakty on Wednesday to disrupt a news conference called by Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand, it represented a radical departure from the group's origins.

After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Kremlin heavily criticized what it saw as improper foreign involvement in Kiev's affairs, including the major role of youth groups that it said were being funded from abroad. The Kremlin also made it clear that it would not tolerate such activities at home. At about that time, Nashi rose out of the ashes of another pro-Kremlin youth group, apparently to defend the country from a possible foreign threat.

What happened Wednesday, however, had nothing to with defending the country's sovereignty. The incident at Argumenty i Fakty was not defensive but offensive -- in every sense of the word.

The Kremlin was clearly involved in the creation of Nashi, and regardless of whether it is behind the group's threatening and aggressive behavior toward Kaljurand and staff at the Estonian Embassy, it is to some degree responsible for what is happening now.

If the Kremlin has played a role in orchestrating Nashi's campaign against the embassy and its staff, then it is acting in direct violation of its international obligation to provide for the security of foreign missions in Russia.

If Nashi is taking the initiative on its own and the authorities are simply turning a blind eye, the government is still responsible under international law for protecting the embassy, Estonian diplomats and the embassy's employees.

The third possibility is that authorities are trying behind the scenes to bring the Nashi activists to heel, but with little success. While this would exonerate the authorities from direct responsibility, it might actually be the worst scenario of all. Stoking the passions of youth groups with the righteousness of their ideas and then using a very broad brush to paint different countries or groups as the enemies of that idea poses the danger of an extreme -- or extremist -- reaction that spins out of control.

Just last month the Moscow City Court banned an anti-Kremlin youth group, the National Bolshevik Party, for "extremist activity" that included storming news conferences held by government officials and breaking into government buildings to stage protests.

Nashi, however, remains free to operate against anyone it feels has threatened the country's interests. For the foreign community, this must be disquieting in the extreme.