The Kremlin is facing a problem, and this time it’s a lot more serious than oil at $36 a barrel. The demographic of the country is ageing rapidly, so much so that in the next 20 years the population is expected to decrease by 30%. Combine this with sparsely populated steppe beyond the Urals and you have analysts predicting that by 2050 the proportion of Russians in Russia will be just 46.5%. The various ethnic, sexual, and ideological minorities that are plotting against the Russian state, will soon become the majority. Russia, under threat from all sides, is in need of faithful defenders of conservative values. This is the conspiracy-driven rhetoric behind Yunarmia, a Youth Army over half a million strong. The plan is to double in size before 2020.
In a country where there are limited prospects for life beyond the major cities and their satellite towns, Yunarmia offers escapism for an alienated, vulnerable population. Children aged 8-18 are promised vivid experiences: flying on planes, visiting military submarines, jumping with parachutes. What teenager would say no to that? Notwithstanding escapism offering opportunities to go beyond the humdrum of village life, the Yunarmia is much more. It offers a narrative for Russians, a creed that they have been missing since the fall of the Soviet Union. A narrative where the patriotic is finely blended with militaristic elements. Reminiscent of the Soviet Pioneers, kids are trained in weapons handling and versed in a Kremlin-propagated understanding of the world. With a wave of colour-revolutions trying to overthrow the kleptocratic soviet-remnants asphyxiating their countries, the Kremlin has become increasingly skittish – it is reliant on these quasi-democratic leaders for its own stability. A patriotic, militarist youth army across Russia and its neighbours will ensure that colour revolutions are never afforded a power vacuum again. Already, there have been examples of violent crackdowns, simulating ‘hunting the enemy’ at Yunarmia exercises in Crimea.
Not only does the army serve as a proxy against colour revolutions at home and abroad, but it also serves a platform to indoctrinate and shape the minds of the most impressionable cross-section of the population. As the two-decade reign of Putin comes to an end in 2024, with no natural successor in sight, it is crucial that the voting-age population buys into this vision of a resurgent, pan-Eurasianist Russia, expanding beyond its borders to pre-empt encroachment and protect itself from aggressors. With ample time to put millions through this system before 2024, today’s leadership is moulding the voters it will need come the fateful election day.