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Young Guard Under Attack Over Fake Fire-Fighting Video

  • Claire Bigg

Young Guard is the youth wing of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party

Young Guard is the youth wing of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party

The video clip shows a group of young men shoving sand on what appears to be the remnants of a forest fire, their faces covered with protective surgical masks.

The clip was posted on the Internet two weeks ago by Young Guard, the youth wing of Russia's ruling United Russia party, as part of its campaign to help extinguish the devastating wildfires that swept Russia this summer.

But instead of drawing praise for the group's efforts to fight the blazes, the clip has widely been denounced as a fake.

In the embattled clip, Young Guard leader Ruslan Gattarov praises the group for extinguishing fires on a "huge territory" in the Ryazan region, southeast of Moscow.

"Without us, I think there would have been a serious blaze, although fire engines and vehicles with water are constantly arriving. If we had not intervened literally seconds after the first flames arose -- and these flames were two times higher than us -- several minutes, or several dozen minutes more, and several fire brigades would have been unable to control the blaze."

WATCH: The Young Guard video clip has been criticized by some as a fake.

Many viewers and bloggers, however, say the untouched leaves, grasses, and trees around the fire featured on the video prove the clip is a scam.

Aleksandr Khodorovsky, a coordinator of the Nashi pro-Kremlin youth group in the Ryazan region, told "The Moscow Times" he had never seen any Young Guard members taking part in the fire-fighting efforts.

'Copying The Style Of Russia's Leaders'

Critics accuse Young Guard of seeking to cover up its poor performance during the blazes, in contrast to the thousands of anonymous volunteers who joined the fire-fighting efforts earlier this month.

Ilya Yashin, leader of the Solidarity opposition movement, told RFE/RL that the Young Guard was merely "copying the style of Russia's leaders."

"Instead of preparing the country against wildfires and battling this calamity, [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin flies in helicopters in company of television crews. Members of Nashi and Young Guards do the same, on a much more primitive and vulgar level," Yashin said.

The "Vedemosti" newspaper reported on August 25 that the incident sparked criticism from the powerful Vyacheslav Surkov, the Kremlin deputy chief of staff, who also oversees pro-Kremlin youth groups.

A top United Russia member, Aleksei Chadayev, also slammed Young Guard on his blog, saying its fire-fighting team had "nothing to show off about."

Young Guard has fiercely rejected the accusations and continues to insist the video was real.

Gattarov told RFE/RL that he was offended and upset by all the criticism: "The various opposition structures and opposition bloggers failed to do anything when Russia was in this difficult situation. Now they are slinging mud at those who acted: United Russia, the government, us, Youth Guard. It's really hurtful when you've truly taking action and people slander you. I'm very upset."

Gattarov said journalists had ignored invitations to watch his group combat fires in the Ryazan region.

He also dismissed rumors that his decision to leave Young Guard was tied to the video scandal.

The 33-year-old Gattarov, who became a member of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's parliament, in April, said the reason for his departure was a change in policy that will set an age limit of 28 for members of the group's political ruling council.
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    Claire Bigg

    Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to​