How Russia prepares an army of children for the next war

How Russia prepares an army of children for the next war

Karina was an ordinary girl, one of 200 thousand others who were born in Ukraine in 2005. Her mother is a stylist and her father loved football. He often visited Russia, as did many other Ukrainians at that time. Their life did not change much after the beginning of the temporary occupation of Simferopol where they lived. However, the capture of the peninsula had a significant impact on Karina's fate. In 2021, when her peers were preparing for the final exams and filming a video for the lyrics of the song "Our Father Is Bandera", the girl had to meet Putin. He arrived in the temporarily occupied Crimea on the "Day of National Unity" and delivered a speech. The members of the “Yunarmia” (“Young Army”), including Karina, listened to the speech.

"The living words of a legendary person responsible for a huge country rang out! And we are close, together, in unity with a great country, we represent its young generation," Karina commented

What is the Young Army?

So far, only a few researchers outside Russia were interested in this issue. This is the reason why Western analysts often perceive the aggressive plans of the Russian Federation only in the short term.

“The Russian army is not able now to open a significant second front against Lithuania," Carlo Masala, a leading German researcher of international relations said.  Currently yes, but will this stay the same in future? Russia is transforming from an authoritarian regime into a totalitarian one, and the creation of a mass youth military and sports organisation “Yunarmia” is a part of this process. 

Analogies between a pioneer movement and this organisation are obvious, but such youth groups functioned also in other regimes of the 20th century.

Why do children's organisations arise in totalitarian regimes?

Any totalitarian system seeks to eradicate "wrong" values, destroy autonomous social organisations, and completely politicise society. In such a system, youth organisations are a tool for the development of collective consciousness among minors. The regime seeks to ban all independent organisations, and to appropriate and consolidate the most influential ones.

Parties need functionaries, and it is in such children's centres that they are educated and recruited. Later some children are encouraged to continue their education in the ideological system and promoted to certain positions. At the same time, children themselves are mostly interested in entertainment and education which they get in these organisations rather than ideology. 

An example of such an organization is the Nazi "Hitler Youth"(Hitlerjugend), which was originally a youth section of the party, but after the Nazis came to power, joining organisation became mandatory. Members learned trades, went on hikes and sang songs. After the beginning of the Second World War, ideological education became the main task of the organisation. Members of the "Hitler Youth" were involved in demonstration of public support for the Wehrmacht.

The situation was similar in the USSR, but the youth in mass organisations was supposed not only to be indoctrinated, but also physically strong. Even before Joseph Stalin came to power, the state established control over all sports organisations. Since 1931, the All-Union Council of Physical Education introduced the program "Ready for Work and Defense". Children from 10 years old were involved in it. Although its main areas allegedly became fitness, running, jumping and swimming, participants were required to undergo military training. The party positioned physical education as a civic duty. Essentially, sport replaced military activities in peacetime.

Military patriotic youth organisation of modern Russia

The Russian "Young Army" includes the elements of the totalitarian youth movement described above. The organisation was founded in 2015, which is not a coincidence: in 2014 Russia has already declared its imperial ambitions, and every such project requires motivated executors who will expand the borders of the empire.

There are at least three elements of the education of the Russian Ministry of Defence applied to children from the age of eight.

Indoctrination. Imposing belief in the greatness of the Russian state is probably the most important part in the formation of a Young Army member. Children should remember: Russia deserves a special role in the world because of the great deeds of their ancestors. They inherited these exploits, which means they have to reproduce them. Therefore, children read propaganda literature, watch films and join political memorial events such as “The Immortal Regiment”. In some places, so-called lecturers from the Young Army came to Russian schools, praising the occupation of Crimea and spreading Ukrainophobia.

Military training. The Young Army leadership claims that not all organisation members will perform military service. At the same time, considerable attention is paid to military training. Children march, disassemble a Kalashnikov assault rifle, pass an obstacle course under fire from blank cartridges, evacuate the "wounded" in gas masks, crawl under armoured vehicles, and the most advanced ones disembark from them and fight an invisible enemy.

Information warfare. There is a "school of young correspondents" within the structure of the Young Army. Except the military resources that will hold the borders of the empire, propagandists are also needed to justify its existence. Children learn to speak convincingly on camera, produce visual content and build a positive image for a youth organisation. The last goal is achieved with the help of bright uniforms, additional points for admission to higher education institutions and providing members with tickets to summer camps.

The Young Army and Russian borders

So-called LNR and DNR, the illegal armed formations, copy all Russian institutions< including the Young Army. After the beggining of the full-scale invasion, the Kremlin took a course to deepen the temporary occupation of the regions. The integration of the so-called Young Army of LNR and DNR to the Russian organisation’s structure was one of the steps of the occupation. The Young Army department also operates in Armenia. In March, the  Armenian Young Army members lined up in the form of the letter Z to show support for a full-scale Russian invasion. Children from Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan get tickets to the "Artek" summer camp from the Young Army, although the organisation makes no secret that their goal is to raise patriots of Russia. The Young Army openly declares that it cooperates with other "patriotic" youth organisations in Commonwealth of Independent States countries.

The Young Army of the future

Russia does not intend to stop. After the failure of its "triumphant march" to Kyiv, Russia now needs to mobilise  resources to achieve its maximalist goals. Therefore, the Kremlin launched the creation of a new youth organisation. It seems that it should become a mass project, since it will include both two major organisations - the Young Army and the Russian pupil's movement - and other smaller ones.

In 2017, the Young Army members already stormed the model of the Reichstag. The German politicians then were surprised, and Russians seemed  amused. But there is nothing surprising or amusing in all this. If Russia is not stopped, it will continue to expand borders by force, using new, better trained fighters.