They have done yoga beneath giant portraits of Vladimir Putin, pelted the British ambassador with eggs, and promised to come out onto the streets to quash any stirrings of revolution in Russia. But rumours are swirling in Moscow that Nashi, the pro-Kremlin movement that counts thousands of patriotic young Russians in its ranks, could be living on borrowed time.
A group of hackers known as Anonymous, which in recent weeks has posted emails copied from the hacked email accounts of Nashi leaders, announced yesterday that they had found information that Nashi was to be closed down after next month's presidential election.
The group did not say where the information had come from, but the rumour rings true. Vladislav Surkov, the man believed to have created Nashi in 2005, was recently nudged out of the Kremlin. The former Deputy Chief of Staff was thought to control much of the internal political scene in Russia and be the ideologue of Putinism. Mr Surkov has been assigned a new role as Deputy Prime Minister, and is no longer in charge of youth policy.
Nashi and similar groups have been a key part of the Russian political landscape in recent years. Each year, thousands of young Nashi activists have taken part in residential camps on Lake Seliger in rural Russia, attending seminars on politics and lifestyle, hearing how the opposition are political prostitutes in the pay of the West, and often receiving flying visits from top government officials including Mr Putin himself. They have been bussed into Moscow from the provinces for mass rallies; they have picketed opposition activists; and they harassed the former British ambassador for months after he addressed an opposition conference. Their purpose is to prevent a repeat of Ukraine's Orange Revolution in Russia.
The run-up to next month's presidential elections, when Mr Putin will seek a return to the Kremlin, has been marked by exactly the sort of massed street protests that Nashi was set up to prevent, but it seems that the group has become an embarrassment rather than a help. The hacked emails showed how leading Nashi activists planned to discredit opposition members and pay for Kremlin-friendly blog posts.
If Nashi is closed down, it cannot be assumed that the Kremlin will stop nurturing young activists. It may simply rebrand its youth wing. Anonymous said in its statement that it suspected the same leaders would be involved, but that the movement would be renamed.
Commentators were sceptical that a new group would make a difference. "Youth policy in Russia is not seen as way for young people to develop, but instead as a way for the authorities to use them," wrote the independent news website gazeta.ru in an editorial. "Dynamic young people who are really interested in what is going on in the country are either opposed to the current authorities or determined to leave Russia as they don't see any prospects here."
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