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Putin sets up youth brigade to tighten grip

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Putin sets up youth brigade to tighten grip
By Julius Strauss in Moscow
(Filed: 01/03/2005)

With President Putin's popularity in sharp decline, the Kremlin has set up a new Russian youth movement to ensure its control of the streets in the event of mass anti-government protests.

Hundreds of youths, many belonging to the president's cultural society "Walking Together", held a meeting in a house owned by the Kremlin Property Department to launch the group at the weekend. The organisation, which leaders hope will attract 300,000 members, was christened "Nashi" [Ours], a word which in Russian has chilling nationalist overtones.

When two outsiders one from an opposition party, the other a journalist sneaked into its founding conference, they were humiliated and one was beaten.

The latest move by the Kremlin to shore up its rule comes after claims that it has been using infiltrators to stir trouble at anti-government rallies, giving the police an excuse to disperse them.

In the eyes of many, the tactics are more reminiscent of the Hitler Youth of pre-war Germany than of the supposed democracy in Russia whose health Mr Putin indignantly defended when he met President George W Bush last week. Andrei Pointkowsky, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, said: "Putin is behind this. Scared by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Kremlin is trying to form a Putin Jugend to suppress future opposition.

"Putin has had a catastrophic loss of authority. People are finally beginning to realise that the emperor has no clothes."

Ilya Yashin, youth leader of the opposition party Yabloko and one of the two liberals who gatecrashed the conference, said: "Our apprehensions about the Kremlin's intentions to form assault units to fight the opposition have been confirmed. Under the Nashi slogan the Kremlin is forming brigades of storm-troopers so that they can use force against the opposition.''

Mr Yashin gave two examples where opposition activists were beaten by unknown assailants with shaved heads after attending anti-government rallies.

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