- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

MOSCOW — With President Vladimir Putin’s popularity in sharp decline, the Kremlin has set up a Russian youth movement to ensure its control of the streets in the event of mass anti-government demonstrations.

Hundreds of youths, many belonging to the president’s Walking Together cultural society, held a meeting in a house owned by the Kremlin Property Department to start the group over the weekend.

The organization, which leaders hope will attract 300,000 members, was christened “Nashi,” meaning “Ours,” — a word that 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 up 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 prewar Germany than of the supposed democracy in Russia — whose health Mr. Putin indignantly defended when he met with President Bush last week.

“Putin is behind this,” said Andrei Pointkowsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow. “Scared by the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Kremlin is trying to form a Putin Jugend [Youth] to suppress future opposition.

“Putin has had a catastrophic loss of authority. People are finally beginning to realize that the emperor has no clothes.”

Ilya Yashin, youth leader of the opposition party Yabloko and one of the two reformers who gate-crashed 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 cited two incidents in which opposition activists were beaten by assailants with shaved heads after attending anti-government rallies.

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