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Analysis & Opinion
14.02.12 The New New Generation
By Dan Peleschuk

The Kremlin announced its plans for a new youth policy on Tuesday, which will formally shift control of pro-government youth activities from the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs to the presidential administration. The change-up likely reflects the notorious pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi??™s diminishing role and may shed light on the new influence of Kremlin insider Vyacheslav Volodin, who recently replaced longtime chief ideologist Vladislav Surkov as deputy head of the presidential administration. Yet it remains unclear whether the new shuffle will have the desired effect.

The Russian press has pitched the move as yet another step away from the notorious pro-Kremlin group Nashi, which has come under fire lately for its tactics and has been gradually phased out by the authorities. Once a mainstay at staged pro-government rallies, Nashi, the brainchild of Surkov created in 2005 by Federal Youth Minister Vasily Yakemenko as a force to counter a potential ???Orange Revolution??? in Russia, has seen its influence dwindle lately: it was nowhere to be seen in recent weeks as the tide of anti-Kremlin street protests grew.

The most recent controversy involving the group arose when the Russian wing of Anonymous, an international online whistle-blowing group, hacked into the e-mail accounts of both Yakemenko and Nashi Press Secretary Kristina Potupchik. The e-mails revealed Yakemenko??™s suspiciously lavish personal spending habits, as well as Potupchik??™s correspondence with a wide variety of activists and bloggers, in which she discussed methods of discrediting opposition leaders and arranging for paid Kremlin-friendly posts on blogs. Yet the affair also landed the organization in potential legal trouble: Head of the Kommersant Publishing House Demyan Kudryavtsev said the newspaper may seek a criminal case against Potupchik after her e-mails documented a planned 2008 DDoS attack on its Web site.

Now, Timur Prokopenko, a State Duma deputy and the leader of United Russia??™s youth wing, the Young Guard, is set to take up the post of deputy head of internal politics in charge of youth work. Subordinated directly to the presidential administration, the new position also falls under the control of Volodin, who experts said won a key power struggle against Surkov, the Kremlin??™s erstwhile gray cardinal. Previously such affairs had been under Yakemenko??™s control as part of the Federal Youth Agency (also known as ???Rosmolodezh???), but Kremlin sources have hinted rather heavily in recent days that his time is up.

In a telling sign of Volodin??™s new, influential role as the bridge between Kremlin power and youth party politics, former Young Guard Leader Konstantin Mazurevsky was tapped to replace the recently-departed Alexander Vorobyov as chief of United Russia??™s Central Executive Committee. What??™s more, an anonymous Kremlin source confirmed to Gazeta.ru on February 14 that Prokopenko will maintain ???virtually all the ideological and real influence??? of pro-Kremlin youth groups, and will be single-handedly overseen by Volodin, who experts said is attempting to expand his control to match Surkov??™s former influence.

Shortly after Prokopenko??™s promotion, a senior United Russia official hinted at the possibility that, despite pro-Kremlin groups??™ poor showing in the face of protests, the new apparatchik on the block would continue to play a political role. Moreover, according to Ruslan Gatarov, a member of the party??™s State Council, the goal is to prepare youth for future leadership roles in society and politics. ???Most important is that all these guys don??™t remain within the realm of youth politics their entire lives, that these projects can develop into normal civil society organizations,??? he told Kommersant FM, ???and that [members] don??™t just remain as youths, but cross into adult life through these organizations and the development of a quality product.???

The Kremlin has a long history with youth groups, having first attempted ??“ albeit unsuccessfully ??“ to launch a pro-government youth group upon Putin??™s rise to power a decade ago. While Nashi has been by far the most visible, Young Guard, also formed in 2005, has indeed played a key role in grooming future cadres of party leaders and functionaries. Yet as the public protest movement has gained steam in recent weeks, such pro-Kremlin groups, particularly Nashi, are hardly anywhere to be found. The ostensible ???anti-fascist??? group??™s latest appearance was back in early December, in an unsanctioned, post-election opposition protest during which it provoked protesters, who were later arrested in droves by the police.

Experts noted that the latest power shuffle was motivated by two possibilities. On the one hand, according to political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov, the Kremlin is simply attempting to shore up the ranks of youth movements with fresh blood. But on the other, it??™s a serious attempt to counter the increasingly vocal opposition ??“ though to little avail. ???Nashi, Young Guard, and others have turned out to be much weaker than the protest movement, and there undoubtedly appears to be a certain professional and intellectual feebleness, which is why the Kremlin feels it needs to reassess how such youth groups can be useful,??? he said. ???But so far, the authorities haven??™t been successful, and I think for now they??™ll remain lost in their thoughts.???
The source
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