Unreported World reveals the huge personality cult around Vladimir Putin as it follows the extraordinary actions of the mass youth movement dedicated to protecting the interests of the Prime Minister and Russia.
As Putin announces his intention to return as President, reporter Peter Oborne and director James Jones meet some of the young people who are utterly devoted to him, have seemingly limitless resources, and appear to be above the law.
Outside the American Embassy in Moscow the team films members of Nashi, or 'Our People', as the movement is called, spray-painting 'Russia Forward' in six-foot letters, following criticism of Russia by the American Defence Secretary.
The police step in, but it soon becomes clear who is in charge as Nashi members bully, shove and chase away the officers in an extraordinary display of strength.
Nashi's headquarters are in a £20 million house in central Moscow, decorated with murals of Putin and quotes from his speeches. Oborne joins Nashi's weekly political meeting, which reveals a sinister side to its patriotism as anti-western and racist views come to the fore among some members.
Masha Kislitsnya, Nashi's Commissar, describes how her experience growing up as the daughter of a single mother in the 1990s formed the basis for her admiration for Putin.
She recalls that her family lived in dire poverty while the government was in collapse following the fall of communism, with the shops often empty of goods. Everything changed for the better, she says, when Putin took over.
Oborne also meets 21-year-old Nashi members Victoria and Oksana. They believe Putin has restored pride and prosperity to Russia and say joining Nashi was a way to express their adoration. They show and describe their favourite pictures of their leader, declaring that they are fanatics and that they worship him.
Critics say Nashi's true function is to build a personality cult for Vladmir Putin, while bullying, intimidating and harassing his opponents. The team speak to journalist Oleg Kashin, who was brutally beaten up after writing an article criticising a business project of one of Putin's closest allies.
His attackers have never been caught but Kashin tells Oborne he believes Nashi were most likely behind the attack, as one of his articles featured a project which they supported. Nashi denies all involvement, with Masha dismissing the suggestion as 'just accusations'. While Putin's Russia may look like a liberal democracy - with elections, law courts and parliament - Unreported World shows how in reality there is a parallel state. Putin is a former Director of Russia's security service, the FSB - successor to the notorious KGB.
Critics say that, just like Nashi, the FSB is used to silence opposition and further the business interests of Putin's allies. The team meets Olga Romanova, a financial journalist whose husband Alexei ran a profitable construction business until she ran an article exposing the business practices of a close Putin ally. Olga claims Alexei was given the choice between divorcing his wife or losing his business.
Soon afterwards the FSB started an investigation. Alexei was arrested, charged and sent to jail for eight years for the theft of shares - a crime she says he had not committed. As the Unreported World team leaves Russia, it seems as though Nashi's worship may be turning Putin into one of the archetypal figures who occur throughout Russian history: a strongman with mystical powers, attracting uncritical devotion from his followers.
What also seems clear is that the future of democracy and the rule of law in Vladimir Putin's Russia is under threat.Watch now on 4oD
|Friday 04 November 2011||Channel 4|
|Friday 04 November 2011||7.30PM||Channel 4|