- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

MOSCOW — The British ambassador to Moscow has lodged a formal protest with the Russian Foreign Ministry after, he claimed, he was stalked and harassed by a Kremlin-backed youth movement for months.

Ambassador Anthony Brenton’s rare complaint has highlighted the increasingly sour relationship between Moscow and London, which has been poisoned still further by the death of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

The ambassador, who has emerged as a vocal champion of Russia’s browbeaten human rights community, accused the Nashi youth movement of deliberate psychological harassment that, as he was quoted as saying, “borders on violence.”

The Nashi youth movement — created last year by the Kremlin to counter the formation of a Russian version of the reformist groups that spearheaded revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine — has earned a reputation for thuggery. Some reform and human rights activists have compared it to the Hitler Youth and warn that the movement, which means “ours” in Russian, poses a serious threat to the country’s democracy.

For nearly five months, Nashi activists have picketed both the British Embassy and Mr. Brenton’s residence, heckled virtually every speech he has given, followed his car and even posted details of his itinerary on their Web site — a move that has raised fears for the ambassador’s security.

Mr. Brenton’s woes began in July, shortly before Russia hosted its first-ever G-8 summit, when he addressed an opposition conference, despite Kremlin warnings that his presence would be viewed as “an unfriendly gesture.” Though the speech itself was fairly mild, Mr. Brenton was the only Western diplomat to speak at the “Alternative Russia” gathering, a gesture that incensed Mr. Putin.

The president accused the ambassador of seeking “to influence the internal balance of power in Russia.”

Nashi’s campaign began shortly afterward. A spokesman for the British Embassy said that the ambassador had received assurances that the matter would be dealt with.

It seems inconceivable that Nashi could be acting without the tolerance of the Kremlin. Although it denied harassing the ambassador, Nashi has pledged to continue its campaign until Mr. Brenton apologizes for attending the “Alternative Russia” summit.

The ambassador, an old Russia hand who took up his post two years ago, has refused to do so, although he did invite Nashi leaders to join him for a cup of tea. The offer was rebuffed.

Although it officially has 8,000 members, Nashi was able to muster 50,000 for a pro-government rally last year and has even held small protests in New York.

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