Russia Plans to Create Armed Teenage Militias

Volunteer militia members.  Source: Nashi youth movement, a pro-Kremlin organization known for its fierce manifesto and fervent patriotism, is preparing to flood Russia’s streets with armed youth militias.  In its latest plan to counteract the country’s political opposition, the movement intends to bring together some 100,000 disaffected youths over three years, arm them with handguns, and let them loose across Russia as a supplement to more traditional law enforcement.

The online newspaper reported on the new initiative, and spoke with the project’s leader, Sergei Bokhan.

According to the publication, Nashi intends to create an All-Russian Association of Militias (VAD) before December 2009, with branches in a large number of Russian regions.  The group will build on the Volunteer Youth Militias (DMD) created by Nashi in 2005 to counteract protests staged by the opposition.

“We find kids, who are practically living on the streets,” Bokhan said, “who don’t know how to occupy themselves, and who don’t have money or interests.  We provide them with gyms, teach them combatant and competitive sports.  We work with the at-risk group, who would potentially break a bottle over someone’s head, or throw rocks through windows.”

Bokhan noted that organizations from 18 regions, seven of them led by former Nashi militia members, have already signed on to the VAD.  Eight more are expected to join in the near future, with representation in more than half of all Russian regions by December.

Under Russian law, the organization will be able to work directly with police.  The VAD also plans to lobby the State Duma on draft legislation expanding the powers of volunteer militias.

The legislation, introduced to the Duma by Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, is expected to pass in the fall.  The bill requires militias to have uniforms and carry identification, and grants members the right to check citizens’ documents, search private automobiles, and use physical force and handguns for self-defense.

Responding to a question of whether teenagers without money or interests could pose a threat if armed and let loose into the streets, Bokhan said that there have been no negative incidents since the DMD was created five years ago.

The new association is expecting serious financing, and has signed an agreement with the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs.  Vasily Yakemenko, a former Nashi leader who heads the agency, has promised the militias, “federal financing for the start-up and administrative support on the regional level.”  The association will also seek out financing in the form of grants.

Last week, militia members held a training exercise in the city of Ostashkov, not far from Nashi’s Seliger-2009 youth conference.  Fifty volunteers maintained peace in the city, which led to 27 arrests over the course of a week, primarily for misdemeanors like public drunkenness and fighting.

Oleg Kozlovsky, the leader of the Oborona opposition movement and a board member of the Solidarity democratic movement, told the online newspaper that these volunteer militias were nothing new.  Similar structures have previously been used to target the political opposition, Kozlovsky said, noting a series of attacks against activists taking part a December 2008 March of Dissent demonstration.

Kozlovsky also noted that arming tens of thousands of young people could prove to be a double edged sword for the Kremlin.

“If authorities take a baton in their hands,” Kozlovsky said, “they must be ready for this baton to strike back at them.”