In a dangerous indication that the militarization of Russian society is occurring rapidly and that this will cast a shadow far into the future, Russian officials say that nearly 350,000 youths in Russia today are members of the Kremlin’s Youth Army today and that a million will be within a year.
The first targets for recruitment are those in children’s homes (detdomovtsy), a category of young people that the Soviets routinely viewed as the most easily molded into dedicated communists and soldiers and from whom came any number of senior party officials and senior commanders.
Now, however, with communism in the past, Russian officials are recruiting such young people for entirely military goals, providing them with military and paramilitary instruction and encouraging them to think in military categories, a development that will create a rising class of people who will be more than ready to engage in military actions abroad or even at home.
At present, Russian officials say, there are more than 1600 children’s homes and resident schools and that many of those in these institutions have anything but a good life:
- 10 percent have tried to commit suicide,
- 40 percent have engaged in criminal activities, and
- 40 percent have become alcoholics or drug abusers.
The Youth Army is thus being presented as a means of saving these children from a life of crime; but it is being made up of people who may be willing to take orders but who want to engage in asocial activities, a feature that makes the Youth Army anything but a positive development in Putin’s Russia.
The All-Russian Children-Youth Military Patriotic Movement ‘Youth Army’ was set up in the summer of 2016 “at the initiative of the Ministry of Defense with the support of the President,” Aleksey Tarasov of Novaya gazeta says, as an umbrella organization that included more than 5,000 groups involved in preparing people for the draft.
But now it has been transformed into something more, including calls for it to provide guards at military-industrial plants and be ready for other services to the government, actions that promote the militarization of the consciousness of young people now and likely the continued militarization of Russian society for decades to come.
Already, Tarasov says, “schools have received instructions how to operate in war time. The president has declared that all major enterprises regardless of the form of property must be prepared to transfer to military rails,” yet other ways in which this militarization of Russian society is proceeding.
Stalin set up Suvorov military academies to promote such values. But “now, there are too few of these and cadet corps; it is necessary to embrace all of childhood and youth. It thus seems that the Youth Army would have a role even if the draft were ended;” and both young people and Russian society are clearly being affected in profound ways.
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