The New York Times has produced a 12-minute video about Nashi (Ours) which, despite some incorrect translating, is worth a watch.
When I studied abroad in Moscow in 2001, the youth groups V Puti (In Motion, literally “On the Way,” a clear pun on Putin’s name) and Idushchiye Vmestye (Walking Together) were just becoming active. At the time, following a nationwide gathering in Moscow, the Moscow Times broke a few stories about the young people who became group leaders because they were given free cell phones, and about all of those who boarded buses and traveled hours in tee-shirts with Putin’s face on them to march for a couple hours, who had been promised a free day and activities in the capital many of them had never visited. They complained to interviewers when these promises — the singular reason for their participation — were not upheld.
The video outlines similar motivations for Nashi’s activists today: free summer camp, seminars and trainings, the hope to rise in Russia’s biggest companies or within the government. If you have to identify Garry Kasparov, the chess champion who has recently taken up opposition politics, as an American citizen or march with some war veterans on Victory Day, well then so be it.
How much these young people really believe, despite their willingness to espouse this rhetoric, is entirely another question. Just as one journalist in the piece notes how well this youth movement imitates independent political action while in fact acting as a puppet of the Kremlin, these youths may be convincingly imitating followers to disguise their purely selfish motivations for participation.
A common claim not touched upon in the video is that Nashi may soon become too popular for the Kremlin’s own good, that the imitation of protests and staged actions develops a cadre of politically experienced youth, and that they may have in fact created a monster which will ultimately come back to haunt them. This supposition, though not unimaginable, of course remains to be seen.