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‘Loyal to the motherland’: joining Russia’s Youth Army

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At the Stalingrad Battle Museum in Russia s southern city of Volgograd, dozens of teenagers stand in a circle, waiting to take oath as they join the patriotic Youth Army movement. Dressed in beige trousers and red berets, the children stand in rows in the building s iconic Triumphant Hall, decorated in white marble and symbols of the Red Army crushing the Nazis. "Do you swear to always be loyal to the motherland?" a group leader said. "I swear!" they replied in chorus. Some parents watched as their children took the oath in the presence of officials, war veterans and local leaders of the militaristic youth group. Daria Chertkova said her 12-year-old son Stanislav made a "conscious decision" to join the group by himself. "We supported it," she told AFP. The family had always been patriotic and interested in the past, the 31-year-old mother said. According to the Youth Army s website, more than 1.2 million children have joined its ranks since 2016 But Moscow s offensive in Ukraine and the fallout over it pushed them to take their patriotism a step further. "He knows about the special military operation," Chertkova said, using Moscow s term for the offensive. "In part, what is happening in the world influenced his decision." She hopes her younger son, who is six years old, will also join the movement. "For a boy, I think the main thing is: to love your country, to defend your motherland, to be a patriot." Patriotic education has been on the rise in Russia for years, but it has taken centre stage since the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine almost a year ago. Even more patriotic According to the Youth Army s website, more than 1.2 million children have joined its ranks since the movement was launched in 2016. The group accepts children between eight and 18 years old. It is heavily focused on the memory of the Soviet war effort against the Nazis. The oath-taking ceremony in Volgograd came ahead of the 80th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad, the name of the city at the time. Patriotic education has been on the rise in Russia for years Teacher Yuliya Chernishova, who accompanied her students taking part in the ceremony, said movements like the Youth Army are "very important in our times." The teacher said she had taken her students to visit soldiers wounded in Ukraine. The children performed a comedy show for the injured troops. "We also did New Year postcards (for soldiers on the front)," the 42-year-old said. Parents AFP spoke to struggled to decide how much to disclose to the youths. "He knows that Russia has entered into a conflict with Ukraine," said Lilya, a pensioner who refused to give her last name. She was accompanying her 10-year-old grandson Artyom -- one of the youngest taking part in the ceremony -- to the event. The Youth Army has often been called Russia s 21st century version of the Soviet Pioneer and Komsomol movements -- albeit with different uniforms and with glitzy social media accounts. Lilya, who used to work in Volgograd s puppet theatre, said she "did it all" in her Soviet youth. "I was a Pioneer, Komsomol and Little Octobrist," the grandmother said, wearing a fur coat and purple glasses. The Youth Army is heavily focused on the memory of the Soviet war effort against the Nazis Asked what made the Youth Army different, she said: "I think they are even more focused on instilling patriotism."

At the Stalingrad Battle Museum in Russia s southern city of Volgograd, dozens of teenagers stand in a circle, waiting to take oath as they join the patriotic Youth Army movement.

Dressed in beige trousers and red berets, the children stand in rows in the building s iconic Triumphant Hall, decorated in white marble and symbols of the Red Army crushing the Nazis.

“Do you swear to always be loyal to the motherland?” a group leader said.

“I swear!” they replied in chorus.

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Some parents watched as their children took the oath in the presence of officials, war veterans and local leaders of the militaristic youth group.

Daria Chertkova said her 12-year-old son Stanislav made a “conscious decision” to join the group by himself.

“We supported it,” she told AFP.

The family had always been patriotic and interested in the past, the 31-year-old mother said.

According to the Youth Army s website, more than 1.2 million children have joined its ranks since 2016

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But Moscow s offensive in Ukraine and the fallout over it pushed them to take their patriotism a step further.

“He knows about the special military operation,” Chertkova said, using Moscow s term for the offensive.

“In part, what is happening in the world influenced his decision.”

She hopes her younger son, who is six years old, will also join the movement.

“For a boy, I think the main thing is: to love your country, to defend your motherland, to be a patriot.”

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Patriotic education has been on the rise in Russia for years, but it has taken centre stage since the Kremlin sent troops to Ukraine almost a year ago.

 Even more patriotic 

According to the Youth Army s website, more than 1.2 million children have joined its ranks since the movement was launched in 2016.

The group accepts children between eight and 18 years old.

It is heavily focused on the memory of the Soviet war effort against the Nazis.

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The oath-taking ceremony in Volgograd came ahead of the 80th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad, the name of the city at the time.

Patriotic education has been on the rise in Russia for years

Teacher Yuliya Chernishova, who accompanied her students taking part in the ceremony, said movements like the Youth Army are “very important in our times.”

The teacher said she had taken her students to visit soldiers wounded in Ukraine.

The children performed a comedy show for the injured troops.

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“We also did New Year postcards (for soldiers on the front),” the 42-year-old said.

Parents AFP spoke to struggled to decide how much to disclose to the youths.

“He knows that Russia has entered into a conflict with Ukraine,” said Lilya, a pensioner who refused to give her last name.

She was accompanying her 10-year-old grandson Artyom — one of the youngest taking part in the ceremony — to the event.

The Youth Army has often been called Russia s 21st century version of the Soviet Pioneer and Komsomol movements — albeit with different uniforms and with glitzy social media accounts.

Advertisement

Lilya, who used to work in Volgograd s puppet theatre, said she “did it all” in her Soviet youth.

“I was a Pioneer, Komsomol and Little Octobrist,” the grandmother said, wearing a fur coat and purple glasses.

The Youth Army is heavily focused on the memory of the Soviet war effort against the Nazis

Asked what made the Youth Army different, she said: “I think they are even more focused on instilling patriotism.” 

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

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US Coast Guard boards Chinese fishing boats near Kiribati, official says

The US Coast Guard and Kiribati police boarded two Chinese fishing boats during a patrol against illegal fishing in the Pacific Islands nation’s vast exclusive economic zone this month but found no issues aboard, a coast guard official said.

The United States is seeking a bigger role for its coast guard in helping remote Pacific Islands nations monitor millions of kilometres of ocean – a rich tuna fishing ground – a move that also boosts surveillance as a rivalry with China over security ties in the region intensifies.

Reuters reported on Friday that Chinese police are working in Kiribati, with uniformed officers involved in community policing and a crime database program.

Kiribati, a nation of 115,000 residents, is considered strategic despite being small, as it is relatively close to Hawaii and controls a 3.5 million square kilometre (1.35 million square mile) exclusive economic zone. It is also host to a Japanese satellite tracking station.

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Washington has flagged plans to build an embassy in Kiribati to compete with China, but has not yet done so.

Kiribati police officers were on patrol with the US Coast Guard as “ship riders” for the first time in almost a decade, between Feb. 11-16, a US Coast Guard Guam spokeswoman said.

“The two People’s Republic of China (PRC) flagged fishing vessels were boarded as part of routine maritime law enforcement activities to ensure compliance with regulations within the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed comments.

No concerns were reported during the boardings, she said.

“Both Kiribati officers from the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit and US Coast Guard officers were involved in the boarding operations. This collaboration underscores the partnership between the two nations in upholding maritime law and good governance,” she added.

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The Kiribati president’s office and Chinese embassy did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Kiribati’s acting police commissioner, Eeri Aritiera, told Reuters last week that Chinese police on the island work with local police.

China built a large embassy on the main island, Tarawa, after Kiribati switched ties from Taiwan to Beijing in 2019. 

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

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Ukraine downs nine Russian drones, three missiles, air force says

Russia launched 14 attack drones and a barrage of missiles at Ukraine overnight, with air defence systems destroying nine drones as well as three guided missiles over the Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, Ukraine’s air force said on Monday.

Russia also launched two S-300 missiles from anti-aircraft missile systems and one air-to-surface Kh-31P missile, the air force said on the Telegram messaging app.

It was not clear what happened to the missiles and drones that were not downed. 

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

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Taiwan ally Tuvalu names Feleti Teo as new prime minister

Tuvalu on Monday announced former attorney general and fisheries official Feleti Teo as its new prime minister, after he was elected unopposed by lawmakers in the Pacific Islands nation, officials said.

Former Prime Minister Kausea Natano lost his seat in a general election on Jan. 26 closely watched by Taiwan, China, the US and Australia, amid a geopolitical tussle for influence in the South Pacific.

Tuvalu, with a population of about 11,200 spread across nine islands, is one of three remaining Pacific allies of Taiwan, after Nauru cut ties last month and switched to Beijing, which had promised more development help.

Teo received unanimous support from the 16 lawmakers, two lawmakers told Reuters on Monday.

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Teo, who was educated in New Zealand and Australia, was Tuvalu’s first attorney general. He has decades of experience as a senior official in the regional fisheries organisation and has worked with the Pacific Islands Forum, the region’s major political and economic group. Fishing is a major source of revenue in the Pacific islands.

“Feleti Teo was declared by the Governor General as Prime Minister for Tuvalu,” Tuvalu’s government secretary, Tufoua Panapa, said in an emailed statement.

Tuvalu lawmaker Simon Kofe congratulated Teo in a social media post.

“It is the first time in our history that a Prime Minister has been nominated unopposed,” he said.

The election result in Tuvalu had been delayed by a month as dangerous weather stopped boats from bringing new lawmakers to the capital to vote for prime minister, highlighting why climate change is the top political issue in the Pacific Islands nation.

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Taiwan’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Tuvalu, Andrew Lin, expressed Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulations to Teo, adding that deputy foreign minister Tien Chung-kwang will visit Tuvalu in the near future.

Teo is a friend of Taiwan’s and has visited many times, and has said relations are stable and that maintaining ties is the widespread consensus in Tuvalu, the ministry added.

Taiwan previously said it was paying close attention to the election after Tuvalu’s finance minister in the previous government, Seve Paeniu, said the issue of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan or China should be debated by the new government.

There had also been calls by some lawmakers to review a wide-ranging deal signed with Australia in November, that allows Canberra to vet Tuvalu’s police, port and telecommunication cooperation with other nations, in return for a defence guarantee and allowing citizens threatened by rising seas to migrate.

The deal was seen as an effort to curb China’s rising influence as an infrastructure provider in the Pacific Islands.

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Teo’s position on Taiwan ties, and the Australian security and migration pact, have not been made public.

Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on social media he looked forward to working with Teo.

“Australia deeply values our relationship with Tuvalu, in the spirit of the Falepili Union,” he wrote, referring to the migration pact.

Tuvalu’s ministry would be announced at an oath taking ceremony for the new government later this week, Panapa said.

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