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23 Mar 2018 18:20
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  •   Home > News > International

    Why some young Russians are on 'PutinTeam' ahead of the presidential election

    Thousands of young people gather in a Moscow Park to rally for Vladimir Putin's re-election and it is like a political youth group with supporters ice-skating, dancing, waving glow-sticks and wearing "PutinTeam" branded beanies.

    Many young Russians will be cheering after this weekend's election, when Vladimir Putin is re-confirmed as the country's President.

    It's often said, and some independent polling suggests, that those in the 18 to 24-year-old age bracket are among his strongest supporters, perhaps a few per cent more enthusiastic about their leader than the general population.

    They can barely remember a world where Mr Putin wasn't a national figure and are constantly warned by their parents about the chaotic period that gripped the country during the 1990s.

    There are of course some obvious contradictions. This "Putin" generation is online and enjoys social media.

    They largely recognise state-TV as the propaganda it is, yet that doesn't necessarily mean young people disagree with all the messages it puts out.

    Ahead of the Presidential election, which has been derided by independent Russia experts as "fake", some have jumped on "PutinTeam".

    It's an organisation announced in November by ice-hockey star Alexander Ovechkin that describes itself as a "social" movement.

    Given it's been welcomed by the Kremlin, many suspect it only exists to boost voter turnout.

    To hear what some young people think about this Sunday's Presidential election, we went along to one of the organisation's allegedly "non-political" events in a Moscow park.

    It was slightly surreal, certainly unlike anything I've ever been to in Europe or Australia.

    Everyone was either ice-skating, dancing or waving glow-sticks, while wearing "PutinTeam" branded beanies that were handed out by organisers.

    It was as though a political youth group, mainstream charity and major corporate brand had been mashed into one organisation and then held a free event with some B-grade celebrities.

    To enter, you just had to give some basic personal details to "PutinTeam".

    Alexandra Baranova

    "Of course, I will vote for [Vladimir] Putin" said Alexandra Baranova, who was wearing a Russian flag while skating around the rink.

    She seems slightly amused by the suggestion she would consider another candidate.

    They, she claims, are obviously all out of touch.

    "He is the only person who will do something for Russia and something for ordinary people."

    That's a view often echoed by pro-Kremlin media and many of the young people we meet.

    Kirill Kozhomin

    "Who else, what other candidate, would I vote for? There is no other," Kirill Kozohomin said.

    "He's the only candidate in Russia who is capable enough to be the President."

    But Putin's popularity at this event goes deeper than the fact he's perceived to be the only candidate.

    There also does seem to be some genuine affection for the strongman and an admiration for the way he has acted to try to carve out a bigger space for the nation in international affairs.

    For example, some seem to believe an Australian media outlet's interest in Russian politics is a sign of their country's global importance.

    Kristina Kovalyova

    "I give him my heart and soul," said Kristina Kovalyova.

    "I want to see Russia remain beautiful and blossoming as it is now."

    When we try to drill down and ask exactly why these young Putin fans support the President, some mention their family supports him, or talk they about the importance of maintaining strength and stability.

    They'd like things to get better in the future but generally they also want to make sure circumstances don't get worse.

    "Things are usually worse immediately after any revolution," we are told.

    Policy ideas aren't mentioned — politics, apparently, is "a bit boring."

    Andrey Enakov

    "I like him a little bit, my parents support him," said Andrey Enakov, one of the few people not proudly wearing a PutinTeam beanie.

    "I'm still thinking though. Would a new leader do things differently?"

    He says that last comment a little bit more quietly — this doesn't feel like the kind of place where you can openly talk about the possibility of change in the Kremlin.

    Our appointed minder or "coordinator" for the event, has no such thoughts.

    Alina Mikheeva

    "I am hopeful he will win," Alina Mikheeva said, as though the outcome of the election is in doubt.

    For the record, it's not.

    "I consider him a very trustworthy leader and a trustworthy man and he's good enough to retain his position," she said.

    Of course, not all young Russians share this very one-sided political view.

    But everyone is aware that the media and most institutions are currently well and truly on the President's team.

    I leave the event with the sense that some young people may think life will be easier, if they simply jump on board too.

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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