The Telegraph reports:
With a Vladimir Putin badge pinned to his bright red campaign scarf, Robert Schlegel is preaching a revolution the likes of which Russia has never seen. Things will, he promises, keep going just as they are. "After 100 years of our country being in total crisis, we at last have a chance to live normally," he declared proudly. "Thanks to President Putin, we, the young generation, have prospects like never before." [LR: The picture at the top depicts one such brilliant brand-new opportunity for Russian youth. Impressive, isn't it? Can you imagine, do you dare, what Slavic Russians would say about a man named "Schlegel" if he were criticizing Putin rather than fawning over him?]
In the case of Mr Schlegel, a 23-year-old video production boss, those prospects are well-advanced. He is standing for office in this week's parliamentary elections and could become the Duma's youngest member. The reason he may beat candidates twice or three times his age is not simply down to the overwhelming dominance of United Russia, the pro-Putin party under whose ticket he is running. Mr Schlegel is also a leading member of Nashi, the 100,000-strong, Kremlin-backed youth movement set up to promote "Red" revolution rather than "Orange".
Viewed warily by some Russians as a cross between the Soviet-era Konsomol and Germany's Hitler Youth, ostensibly Nashi is only a movement to promote "positive role models" for young Russians, but those who sign up are fed an aggressively patriotic ideology and anti-Western agenda. Members go on summer camps where they are urged to procreate to increase the size of the Russian race and to undergo military service to deter America from invading. The group also takes part in noisy — sometimes violent — demonstrations against pro-Western groups. Last year they were accused of intimidation against the British ambassador, Anthony Brenton, after he attended a conference organised by Other Russia, the anti-Kremlin coalition headed by the former chess champion Garry Kasparov.
For almost five months, Nashi youths picketed the British embassy and Mr Brenton's residence, heckling him at public speeches. The campaign tailed off only when Mr Brenton, who described it as harassment "bordering on violence", lodged a complaint with the Kremlin. Now, though, Nashi's influence is expanding into the corridors of power. It is putting up 15 candidates for parliamentary office. None is beyond the mid-20s, but all are high on United Russia's party list, making them among the first in line for the share of seats.
The move is being viewed with alarm by opposition groups. They see it as an attempt to create a new political class of pro-Kremlin Putin clones, continuing his increasingly authoritarian style of rule. Even more alarmingly, that theory is one thing the Putintni, as they are dubbed, agree with. "Yes, we do see ourselves as providing the political elite of the future," said Mr Schlegel. "A lot of the people in government are old or not particularly competent and the idea is to have a professional revolution by young, educated and technologically literate people."Nashi denies it has fascist overtones yet, asked about the group's harassment of the British ambassador, Mr Schlegel makes no attempt to hide his contempt for Western culture. "He attended a meeting of people Nashi considers enemies of the country," he said. "We didn't attack him, we just want him to apologise. One of our guys had his nose broken by the ambassador's security: if he'd been a liberal, there'd have been a huge fuss." Mr Schlegel's message that Russians have never had it so good goes down well in Moscow. Voters are enjoying unprecedented prosperity thanks to booming oil prices and, with Mr Putin at the top of its list, United Russia is tipped to win up to 70 per cent of the seats in next Sunday's polls.
The constitution bars Mr Putin from standing for a third term in March's presidential elections. But by nominating a tame successor — and possibly using his party's parliamentary majority to gain the post of prime minister — Mr Putin will effectively remain in charge. Less enamoured of the status quo are Russia's opposition politicians, who claim that a series of Putin-imposed curbs have reduced the elections to a Soviet-era sham. A new requirement that parties must get at least seven per cent of the vote to have representation in parliament is expected to prevent the pro-European Yabloko party's 300 candidates holding any seats at all. Instead, the only anti-Putin groups likely to do so are the Communists and the far Right — scarcely the West's idea of a healthy opposition.
Washington and London's discomfiture deepened last week as Mr Putin used a rally on Wednesday to rail against them for backing "Orange"- style parties in the election, the credibility of which is already in doubt after a boycott by international monitors over restrictions on the number of observers they can send. "The election result has been decided already," said Sergei Mitrokhin, 44, a Moscow city councillor who is standing for the Yabloko party. "The government is just a technicality now — all decisions are being made by Mr Putin, who is taking the country towards dictatorship." Mr Putin's international spokesman, Dimitri Peskov, insists the seven per cent rule is simply to discourage a plethora of tiny parties taking office. He dismisses suggestions that Nashi represents a post-communist version of the old Soviet nomenklatura.
Mr Schlegel, however, sees election to the Duma as only the first step in Nashi's long march through the institutions. As the party's application form declares: "We are coming."