Facing a dwindling population crisis, Vladimir Putin has created a program eerily similar to the Hitler Youth movement:

Obediently, couples move to a special section of dormitory tents arranged in a heart-shape and called the Love Oasis, where [young Russian couples] can start procreating for the motherland.

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.

Nashi's annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness.

Complete with veiled racist overtones, the organization resembles the Sturmabteilung (SA) and its intimidation tactics before WWII:

The group's leaders insist that the only connection to officialdom is loyalty to the president. If so, they seem remarkably well-informed.

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". 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. After Estonia enraged Russia by moving a Soviet era war memorial in April, Nashi led the blockade of Estonia's Moscow embassy. It daubed the building with graffiti, blasted it with Stalin era military music, ripped down the Estonian flag and attacked a visiting ambassador's car. The Moscow police, who normally stamp ruthlessly on public protest, stood by.

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Yet, by comparison with other outfits, Nashi looks relatively civilised. Its racism and prejudice is implied, but not trumpeted. Other pro-Kremlin youth groups are hounding gays and foreigners off the streets of Moscow. Mestnye [The Locals] recently distributed leaflets urging Muscovites to boycott non-Russian cab drivers.

These showed a young blonde Russian refusing a ride from a swarthy, beetle-browed taxi driver, under the slogan: "We're not going the same way."

Such unofficial xenophobia matches the official stance. On April 1, a decree explicitly backed by Mr Putin banned foreigners from trading in Russia's retail markets. By some estimates, 12 [million] people are working illegally in Russia.

Put mildly, this movement toward fascism in Russia is troubling. It is also disturbing that this story is not making more headlines here in the States.