By Alla Hurska
On July 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded to intensify the country’s efforts in promoting military propaganda within education institutions. As per Putin’s instructions, the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Ministry of Education and Rosmolodezh (Federal Agency for Youth Affairs) are tasked with implementing additional measures to conduct information campaigns within student and school communities (Kremlin.ru, July 16).
These measures aim to urgently bolster an all-Russian civic identity and provide a clear explanation of the reasons and goals of the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine. According to a document published on the Kremlin’s website, the aforementioned institutions also received instructions to strengthen their efforts in engaging with youth from the annexed Ukrainian territories, including the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” as well as Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions (The Moscow Times, July 18).
Before this announcement, the Russian government had already increased its expenditure on patriotic education rather significantly. Budget allocations for related initiatives have experienced a remarkable surge, increasing sixfold as compared to the previous year. In the 2022 Russian budget, more than $70 million was designated for military propaganda lessons, the acquisition of military paraphernalia and the funding of children’s “patriotic” camps. In 2023, this sum has soared to almost $430 million, marking an exponential growth of 510 percent. Looking ahead to 2024, Moscow has plans to further amplify this budgetary commitment by an additional 13 percent, reaching $480 million (Dzen.ru, October 17, 2022).
The impact of the war in Ukraine has affected various aspects of life at Russian universities, schools, and kindergartens. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, Moscow acknowledged the lack of sufficient attention to the patriotic education of its citizens. In April 2022, Minister of Education Sergey Kravtsov presented several initiatives aimed at instilling a sense of patriotism and citizenship within schoolchildren (Eurasianet, January 12).
The country’s security and military officials, propagandists, and politicians also began pushing for substantial reforms in the realm of patriotic education, frequently drawing parallels with the “successful” experiences in the Soviet Union. Copying Soviet practices, in 2022, a new youth movement—the “Movement of the First”—was established in Russia with the backing and under the supervision of Putin. The organization, with its own television and radio broadcasting capabilities, aims to carry forward the traditions of the Soviet pioneers and actively contribute to the patriotic upbringing of Russian society. In the near future, this youth movement anticipates a membership of 18 million children and teenagers, including those from the occupied territories (RBC, March 14). More than 400 branches of the Movement of the First have already opened in Crimea (Crimea-news.com, July 31).
To further indoctrinate the minds of children with military propaganda, starting from September 1, 2022, the Kremlin authorities initiated so-called “Conversations About the Important” in all Russian schools. These lessons are intended to cultivate students’ pride in their country, foster a sense of patriotism and develop morality and historical enlightenment. Starting from the eighth grade, students will be educated about the importance of defending the Motherland with arms in hand (Dron.media, accessed July 30). The very first lesson, filled with traditional Russian propaganda narratives, was held personally by Putin during his visit to Kaliningrad (RIA Novosti, September 1, 2022). From February 13, such propagandist “conversations” began to be broadcasted on Channel One, the main state-controlled TV channel. This new initiative expanded its target audience, as the appeal was no longer limited solely to schoolchildren but also was extended to their parents (1tv.ru, February 13).
In various Russian regions, military units are assigned to schools, assuming roles of patronage over the institutions. The “heroes” of the war in Ukraine (including Wagner Group mercenaries) are regularly invited to schools to talk about patriotism (Current Time TV, December 22, 2022). To boost morale, school and kindergarten administrators line up and lay out children in the form of the letter Z, the symbol of the Russian war against Ukraine (Current Time TV, December 29, 2022). As part of a deliberate endeavor to shape youth into loyal militarized nationalists, schools are installing “hero desks” in classes featuring images of Russian soldiers who lost their lives in Ukraine (Dsnews.ua, April 15, 2022).
The upcoming academic year promises several other significant changes for Russian children and youth. With basic military training returning in schools starting September 1, practical militarization will soon be accompanied by theoretical militarization. Sergei Mironov, the leader of “A Just Russia” party, stated that the main aim is to systematically prepare citizens for potential war. This initiative received strong support from the Ministry of Defense. The course will include shooting practice, handling hand grenades and learning first aid basics on the battlefield. During these lessons, people with military experience, including veterans of the war in Ukraine, share their personal experiences in the classroom (Lenta.ru, July 16).
Furthermore, the Russian Ministry of Education has adjusted social studies, literature and geography curricula. Specifically, any references to Ukraine and Kievan Rus’ are directly minimized (Current Time TV, December 29, 2022). The forthcoming history textbook for high school students will include a comprehensive section dedicated to the war in Ukraine. It will provide an explanation for the invasion, characterizing Ukraine as a neo-Nazi state (Zerkalo.az, July 23). Beginning on September 1, special “education consultants” will be deployed in schools across Russia. The training of these consultants began in 2021 as part of the “Patriotic Education of Citizens of the Russian Federation” project. It is expected that veterans of military operations in Ukraine will also work as such consultants (Fontanka.ru, May 26).
In the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, the Russian regime is constantly militarizing children and youth. By means of propaganda and military training, the Kremlin hopes to integrate them into its militaristic policy. Children from these territories are being sent to Russia—for example, to the “Cossack Cadet Corps” located in Kalmykia—and to Belarus (Tsn.ua, July 13; Twitter.com/CurrentTimeTv, July 24). Russians are also planning to open cadet classes and branches of the Russian Volunteer Society for Cooperation With the Army, Aviation and Navy in the occupied territories (Ru.krymr.com, February 8; Sprotyv.mod.gov.ua, May 30).
All these extensive government initiatives aimed at militarizing Russian youth and ensuring that the forthcoming generation of Russians becomes inherently militarized and consistently prepared for military service seek to minimize inclinations to critically analyze the reasons and consequences for armed conflicts. The efficacy of these practices increases with children of younger ages, underscoring their potential for generating enduring repercussions within Russian society for decades to come.
About the author: Alla Hurska is an associate expert at the International Center for Policy Studies (Kyiv), and a research assistant at the University of Alberta. Hurska’s research at the University of Alberta concerns geo-economic and geopolitical issues in the post-Soviet area, including the Arctic region and geopolitics of gas and oil. She is also interested in the role of Russian propaganda campaigns in influencing public opinion and decision-making in post-Soviet countries. Her articles and expert comments have been solicited by international think tanks, research institutions, and news outlets, including Diplomaatia (Estonia), ICPS (Ukraine), Kyiv Post (Ukraine) and, in Spain, CIDOB, Autonomous University of Barcelona, El Periódico de Catalunya, and El Confidencial.
Source: This article was published by The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 134