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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Force to Treat Nashi Campers to a Show

Itar-TassFirst Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov, left, and Dmitry Medvedev peering into a tent during a visit Sunday to the Nashi summer camp on Lake Seliger.
Sukhoi fighter jets will swoop over the Nashi summer camp Tuesday for an expensive air battle -- the latest in a series of perks for the pro-Kremlin organization.

Thousands of Nashi campers at Lake Seliger, 350 kilometers northwest of Moscow, will be treated to a show well worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the Air Force is spending on the event, spokespeople for Nashi and the Air Force said.

Nashi, adamant in its support of President Vladimir Putin, denies that it receives Kremlin funding. But its financing is opaque, and the country's largest youth group has been closely linked to Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration.

Critics say that even if the government does not dole out cash, it does provide assistance in other ways -- such as the free air show and a visit to the camp Sunday by First Deputy Prime Ministers Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov, who urged the campers to have many children.

The air show, scheduled at around lunchtime, will last an hour, Air Force spokesman Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky said Friday.

But the six Su-27 planes that will participate in the mock air battle will have to fly three hours, since they are based more than 600 kilometers south of Lake Seliger in the Lipetsk region. The aircraft from the elite unit Sokoly Rossii, or the Falcons of Russia, will be commanded by Major General Alexander Kharchevsky, head of the Lipetsk base.

The Air Force declined to give a price estimate for the exercise, but Magomed Tolboyev, one of the country's top test pilots, suggested that it would cost at least $216,000. Tolboyev said it costs the Air Force $12,000 an hour to fly the Soviet-designed Su-27, a double-engine delta-wing combat jet, Obshchaya Gazeta reported Friday. Tolboyev said the plane guzzles 5 to 6 tons of aviation fuel per hour, and the fuel sells for about 20,000 rubles ($790) per ton. Other expenses include airport landing and takeoff fees and air traffic control.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Six Su-27 jets like this one will perform a mock air battle for Nashi campers.
Nashi spokeswoman Anastasia Suslova dismissed the notion that her group had simply ordered the planes for the camp. "We did not order them but reached an agreement with the Defense Ministry," she said by telephone from the camp in the Tver region. She did not elaborate.

She sidestepped a question about who would cover the bill, saying the show would help promote the armed forces among young people. "It is important that our young people can see this. It is really a spectacular show," she said.

She said the show was linked to a Nashi initiative called Nasha Armia, or Our Army, which helps youth prepare for military service. In addition to the campers, the show is to be attended by Air Force officials and former Nashi activists who now serve in the Air Force.

The Air Force linked the show to the Air Force's 95th anniversary next month. The Air Force traces its origins to a military aviation agency set up by Tsar Nicholas II in August 1912.

"This is purely a military affair. The Russian Air Force is doing shows this summer all over the country," said Drobyshevsky, the Air Force spokesman.

Nashi's annual retreat on the shores of Lake Seliger this summer is the biggest since the group's inception two years ago. The thousands of activists are preparing for State Duma elections in December and the presidential vote in March by attending lectures on exit polls and election monitoring, among other things.

Suslova denied a report that Nashi leaders were working on a plan to unite with several pro-Kremlin and Russian Orthodox-nationalist youth groups to increase its political clout. "This is a lie," she said., citing unidentified Kremlin sources, said talks about the merger were going on at the camp at the Kremlin's initiative.

Nashi has received positive attention from the Kremlin. In previous years, the group's activists have met with Putin around the time of their summer camp.

On Sunday, Medvedev and Ivanov, both wearing blue jeans, dropped in on the camp for a few hours. Medvedev, charged by Putin with tackling the country's demographic crisis, encouraged the campers to have many children of their own who could look after them when they grow old -- and relieve mounting pressure on the pension system.

"When you are young, it's high time to think about old age by creating a full-fledged family that could take care of the aged," he said, Itar-Tass reported. "A pension is not a substitute for love and good relations inside the family."

Ivanov echoed him, saying, "If you raise regular children, they will help you when you grow old so you won't need a pension."

The two men are widely seen as leading contenders to replace Putin next year.