Russia’s Ultranationalist Youth Army — with Ian Garner

Russia’s Ultranationalist Youth Army — with Ian Garner
Russian teenagers attend a ceremony to join the patriotic Youth Army cadets movement in the main hall of the Stalingrad Battle Museum in Russia’s southern city of Volgograd on Jan. 25, 2023. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, Vladimir Putin’s government has intensified its efforts to secure the hearts and minds of its citizens — and, most of all, its young people. 

“History and the myths of the past have been very carefully constructed by the state,” Dr. Ian Garner, a historian and analyst of Russian war propaganda, tells New Lines Magazine’s Amie Ferris-Rotman. “It’s a mythological narrative of death and rebirth of utopias created through sacrifice and martyrdom, and of Russia’s supposedly holy mission to be at the vanguard of history.”

Garner is the author of the forthcoming book “Z Generation: Into the Heart of Russia’s Fascist Youth,” which dissects the state’s efforts to reshape the minds of Russia’s young people.

Casting Russia as the defender of tradition and righteousness in a civilizational battle against a treacherous and decadent West, the state seeks to legitimize its aggressive foreign policy and quell internal dissent through a fervent barrage of ultranationalist messaging.

“It is re-creating children from the ground up. It is preparing them for war.”

“The power of the propaganda machine is immense. The weight of social pressure and peer pressure in Russia is terrifying. And the state pushes it in schools with propaganda lessons,” Garner explains. “It pushes it on television. It pushes it through sort of semi-mandatory volunteer activities in youth groups.”

Those youth groups, he explains, are the heart of the Kremlin’s nation-building project.

“There are now 1.3 million members of the youth army,” says Garner. “And the organization’s website explicitly says we intend to pipe boys into the army.” Children are taught to use Kalashnikovs and compete to win prizes for partaking in patriotic activities. Most alarmingly of all, Garner believes, they are being taught that to be a good Russian means being willing to sacrifice yourself for the state. 

“It is re-creating children from the ground up. It is preparing them for war.”

Produced by Joshua Martin

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