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Pro-Putin Flash Mob Ends Abruptly, But Youth Groups Remain Powerful Force

  • Daisy Sindelar

Putin's supporters organized a flash mob in Moscow

Putin's supporters organized a flash mob in Moscow

Organizers of a flash mob in central Moscow originally pledged the event would take just five minutes.
In the end, the February 9 event stretched all the way to 10 minutes -- enough time for several of its participants to be detained by police.
The unsanctioned gathering, held around a northern segment of Moscow's Garden Ring road, involved young activists holding their hands in the air and encouraging drivers to vote for Vladimir Putin in next month's presidential vote.
It was organized by a relatively new youth group, Putin's Network, or "Set' VV," a reference to the initials for Vladimir Vladimirovich, Putin's first name and patronymic.
In a promotional video, the T-shirt clad leader of Putin's Network, Vladimir Tabak, offers a unembarrassed explanation for why the prime minister will have his vote come March.
"I respect Putin because he's never interfered in my life. Not in 1999, not in 2004, not in 2008. He simply did his work, and I lived my life," Tabak said.
"For me, Putin is first and foremost a business partner. He creates the conditions, and I use those conditions to find success. I'm talking about an honest path to success. And I think he's truly created those conditions -- after all, I'm successful."
Tabak, a graduate of the respected journalism department at Moscow State University, is best known as the mastermind behind a 2010 calendar featuring scantily clad female journalism students professing their admiration for Putin.
Putin's Network joins the ranks of youth groups like Nashi, Steel (Stal), and Piggies Against (Khryushi Protiv) who have been actively agitating on Putin's behalf ahead of next month's contest.
The Gazeta.ru website reports that the groups are planning to stage a rally on February 26, the same day as a scheduled protest organized by the "For Fair Elections" opposition movement. They also plan several additional rallies in the days directly before the March 4 vote.
Internet Savvy
Nashi, by far the most experienced of the groups, has long been seen as a loyal ally to the Kremlin, which values its ties to Russia's younger generations as well as its ability to make tech-savvy mischief.
The group's Internet capabilities have been a valuable tool for the Kremlin, which has found itself at a disadvantage as opposition rivals have managed to better exploit social networking and new media to get their message across.
But at the same time, there are signs the Kremlin is seeking to distance itself from Nashi and other youth groups amid a series of unflattering media reports that have placed their tactics under increasing scrutiny.
Newspaper reports this week offered evidence that Nashi has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars organizing sophisticated Internet schemes to craft a flattering media image of Putin and launch toxic smear campaigns targeting rivals like opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.
And the prominent opposition newspaper "Kommersant" has said it may initiate legal proceedings against the group after hacked emails of Nashi spokeswoman Kristina Potupchik revealed the groups was planning a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the paper's website.
But the Kremlin's disenchantment with youth groups may also be the result of a heated election season where the working-class vote is seen as key.
Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and a former Kremlin insider, has suggested that youth groups' sophisticated and sometimes playful strategies -- like the February 9 Garden Ring flash mob -- deliver little in the way of real political capital.
"All these meetings and events aren't targeting anyone -- not voters, and not the country. It's a spotlight aimed at the sky," Pavlovsky said in a recent interview in Gazeta.ru.
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