Worth Noting, by Bill Wanlund: The Kids Are Alright

It’s well established that the Russian government is going to extraordinary lengths, including censorship, heavy fines, and other punishments, to seal off its citizens from news that doesn’t fit the Kremlin’s version of the invasion of Ukraine – the version which portrays the war not as a fight against Ukrainians but, rather, against hostile NATO forces and an unfounded threat of Nazism.

Boris Grozovski of the Woodrow Wilson Institute’s Kennan Center has analyzed Russian polling data and concluded that most of the younger generation aren’t buying the official message. He writes that, according to one poll commissioned by the Kremlin, “among those under 30, 51 percent are against the war and 38 percent are for it. Among the Russians under 30 years old who live in large cities, have higher education, and do not watch TV, the proportion of those who are against the war exceeds 80 percent.” [Russian Boomers, however, seem comfortable with the Kremlin version of events: Grozovski says the survey found that “83 percent of Russians over age 60 support the war, while only 11 percent oppose it.”]

Noting that other studies reveal similar sentiments, Grozovski writes. “The older the respondent, the more positive he or she is about Russia's foreign policy…Young people are much less likely than those aged 45–59 to say they are personally ready to take part in the war… (while) most 18–24-year-olds…do not want to waste their lives and health on it.”

Grozovski concludes, “Russian youth are more interested in politics than older generations are and are more strongly oriented toward maintaining a high standard of living.” Read his study here

...or are they?

Atlantic Council blogger Doug Klain also takes up the theme of Russian youth, writing that “the Kremlin is accelerating efforts to indoctrinate young Russians and consolidate the pro-war consensus on the domestic front for a further generation…It reflects concerns within the Kremlin that internet-savvy younger Russians are more resistant to state propaganda and have the knowledge to access censored information online.”

In 2013 President Vladimir Putin asked a hand-picked group of historians to produce a curriculum of Russian history free “from internal contradictions and ambiguities." The resulting volumes, Klain writes, included attempts to whitewash Josef Stalin’s reputation and to emphasize the brighter points of the Soviet era. 
And Putin’s still at it. Recent curriculum updates include descriptions of Ukraine’s “genocide against Russians” and arguments that “Ukraine is a Nazi-friendly country controlled by the West.”

Unlike Boris Grozovsky, Klain found evidence to suggest the Kremlin’s “get ‘em while they’re young” tactics are taking hold. He points to a survey by leading Russian pollster Levada showing that “71% of 18- to 24-year-olds backed the war, just 10% below the national average for all age groups,” contradicting a survey that Grozovsky cited.

Klain fears that “There is a real danger that the wave of fanaticism unleashed by the invasion of Ukraine will create a new generation of radicalized young Russians who enthusiastically embrace the toxic brand of militarism and extreme nationalism promoted by the Kremlin. This could prolong the current confrontation between Russia and the West…[and] leading to the continuation of Putinism long after Putin himself has exited the world stage.”

Or, as an earlier Vladimir – Lenin – famously said: “Give me just one generation of youth, and I'll transform the whole world.”

Doug Klain’s article is here.

About last week

Finally, I goofed last week. A modest reader, who prefers anonymity (but lives in tropical splendor in the very far western U.S.), caught the “Worth Noting” essay’s characterization of Shinzo Abe’s assassin as "a man who apparently felt Abe had discriminated against his church." In fact, modest reader points out, “The killer was angry with Abe and his party because of their decades-long, sub rosa alliance with the South Korea-based Unification Church, whose aggressive fundraising from church members had, the man [named Tetsuya Yamagami] believed, bled his mother dry financially.” Not only that, but although he’s confessed, he hasn’t yet been indicted, so he’s still an alleged assassin. The Guardian provided this update on Jan. 10.

Bill Wanlund is a PDCA Board Member, retired Foreign Service Officer, and freelance writer in the Washington, DC area. His column, Worth Noting, appears in the PDCA Weekly Update and addresses aspects of foreign policy of interest to PDCA members.