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Once the television cameras had left, the event organisers admitted that they were not really volunteers, but being paid by "sponsors".

The idea that Russia's anarchic, apathetic youth would ever be attracted into a disciplined mass movement in support of their president - what critics called a "Putinjugend", recalling the "Hitlerjugend" (German for "Hitler Youth") - seemed fanciful. Life for young people in Russia without connections is a mixture of inadequate and corrupt education, and a choice of boring dead-end jobs.

Attendance is monitored via compulsory electronic badges and anyone who misses three events is expelled. But sex is encouraged, and condoms are nowhere on sale.This is not the mind-numbing jargon of Marxism-Leninism, but a lightweight collection of cliches and slogans promoting Russia's supposed unique political and spiritual culture.It is strongly reminiscent of the Tsarist era slogan: "Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Nationality".Today, the Kremlin's ideology chief Vladislav Surkov is trying to explain why questioning the crooks and spooks who run Russia is not just mistaken, but treacherous.Yet, by comparison with other outfits, Nashi looks relatively civilised.With its relentlessly upbeat tone, bizarre ideas and tight control, it sounds like a weird indoctrination session for a phoney religious cult.But this organisation - known as "Nashi", meaning "Ours" - is youth movement run by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin that has become a central part of Russian political life.With uncanny accuracy, the hooligans knew his movements in advance - a sign of official tip-offs.Even when Nashi flagrantly breaks the law, the authorities do not intervene.The group's leaders insist that the only connection to officialdom is loyalty to the president. In July 2006, the British ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, infuriated the Kremlin by attending an opposition meeting.For months afterwards, he was noisily harassed by groups of Nashi supporters demanding that he "apologise".

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