Nashi has grown rapidly, sprouting branches in most of Russia’s 85 regions and staging public cleanup campaigns and other civic projects. It has also organized huge street demonstrations, where tens of thousands of youngsters have congratulated Mr. Putin on his birthday or election anniversary.
For the Nashi faithful, membership combines patriotism with self-improvement — in a manner reminiscent of the Soviet-era communist youth group, Komsomol.
“There is no alternatives to Nashi,” said Artyom Samoilov, a sophomore student from Kursk. “It is a union of like-minded people, very much like the Komsomol.”
To its critics, Nashi represents an effort by the Kremlin to emulate the old Soviet bosses and channel the energy and enthusiasm of Russian youth to the service of the state. Nashi projects are prolific and well-funded, although Mr. Yakemenko refused to elaborate on sources.
“I just don’t know how much it cost,” Mr. Yakemenko said about the funding of the Seliger camp. “But I’m assuring you that we did not take a single kopeck of the taxpayers’ money.”