MOSCOW — The ad begins: “Hey, did you see?” one Russian tween messages another on Russia’s version of Facebook.
The news is that Putin’s going to be talking to kids on TV.
“No way!” the other replies. “What would you ask Putin?”
They muse. School exams. Where will I find work?
And then they start sending cat memes.
The Kremlin is getting interested in Russia’s youth ahead of next year’s presidential elections, amid a growth in students at opposition rallies and research showing increased interest in politics among young Russians. In a rare, kid-targeted event, the Kremlin on Friday afternoon is rolling out its most popular talent: Putin himself, who will take his exhaustive brand of Q&A sessions for a two-and-a-half discussion with the nation’s youth.
Many adults have managed to make themselves look stupid by pandering to young people, and it doesn’t appear the Kremlin is taking any chances. It appears Putin will field a series of somewhat boilerplate questions, from “Who will your successor be?” to “Vladimir Vladimirovich, how do you manage to get everything done?”
While the Kremlin may be worried about growing opposition from young people, media reports and analysts have said officials are more concerned with drawing in their regional basis, where Putin enjoys broad, but not especially enthusiastic, support. In Beltway terms, he’s building the future of his base in small town Russia.
In June, the business newspaper Vedomosti reported that the Kremlin has ordered two major pollsters to provide additional private research on young people, and that Putin’s reelection campaign will focus on youth issues to bring up “quality of education, first jobs, finding employment, credit programs, the digital economy and security.”
So far, Putin has not confirmed that he will run for a fourth term as president, which would end in 2024.
Meanwhile, those born during Putin’s first term are coming of age. The majority of them have no memory not only of the Soviet Union, but also of the 1990s, which have now become a byword for criminality and poverty in mainstream political discourse. Those under 17 in Russia have never known any other Russian leader besides Putin, and many have been told since their early years that he saved the country from collapse.
Nonetheless, there is growing interest in youth politics. Anecdotally, that’s been recognized at recent anti-government protests, where the office workers and street radicals of the 2011 white ribbon protests have been replaced by college and high school students. (They also figured abnormally high in arrest reports.) And a report in May by Russia’s Higher School of Economics said that more than 66 percent of Russian students said that corruption was the country’s main problem, and showed low levels of trust for local and federal officials.
Are these talks aimed at bring protesting teens back to Putin? Dmitry Oreshkin, a liberal commentator, says no. The Kremlin views the liberal pockets of youth in the cities as corrupted, he said, and is focused more on providing for his supporters, what Oreshkin calls the “Global provincial.”
“It will not work especially for advanced young people in the capitals — on the contrary, it will annoy them even more,” he said. “But I would like to repeat that they ignore such young people. They do not want them, and they do not hope to draw them to Putin’s side. They rely on provincial young people who do not see any horizons.”
Those are the kids that the Kremlin wants, Oreshkin said.