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The future that young Russians want

The Putin generation is often worldly, optimistic, and enthusiastic about democracy – as they define it.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 26, 2008

On a mission: A fan of Shakespeare, Johnny Depp, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Kirill Shchitov (r.) is a rising star in President Putin’s party. Here, he enjoys a Sunday afternoon with fiancée Elena Filatova near Moscow’s Christ the Redeemer cathedral.

Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff

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Dressed in stylish shoes and a sharp suit, Kirill Shchitov strides to work every morning with an eye on the Kremlin looming ahead on the skyline. It's a tantalizing reminder of his ultimate goal: the top job within its imposing walls.

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That's a long shot, he concedes with a shy smile in his room, a poster of Charlie Chaplin looking over his shoulder. But at 22, Mr. Shchitov is already a rising star in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party. Last year, as public relations chief for the party's youth wing in Moscow, he helped organize 50-plus events – including a Red Square rally of 15,000 to promote the party's young candidates, nearly a dozen of whom were elected to parliament.

Born amid the fervor of Mikhail Gorbachev's economic and social reforms, Shchitov's generation was expected by liberals to build on Mr. Gorbachev's effort. Instead, they have thrown their weight behind a man seen as rolling back democratic reforms in the name of a more stable, prosperous, and powerful Russia. In Sunday's polls, young Russians – 92 percent of whom approve of Mr. Putin – are likely to join Shchitov in endorsing their leader's eight-year tenure by electing his handpicked successor.

They are the Putin generation: young, often worldly, optimistic about their country's future, and enthusiastic about a democracy they see as having more to do with higher living standards than checks and balances or freedom of speech. Acquainted only through history with the Soviet Union's oppressive grip, but distinctly aware of their parents' challenges during the tumultuous 1990s, they live in a Russia of unprecedented opportunities – ones shaped profoundly by Putin's strong hand over the past eight years.

Over the next three days, the Monitor will profile the careers and outlooks of three young Muscovites whose lives attest to the radical political and economic shifts that have taken place over the past decade in Russia.

Shchitov is tapping his youthful leadership to perpetuate Putin's course. Yulia Barabasheva has seen firsthand the grittier side of prosperity as she used her entrepreneurial skills to open a beauty salon. And Anastasia Chukovskaya is grappling with her decision to quit political journalism, which is a futile exercise, she says, in the face of authoritarianism.

Putin's Russia: proud, stable, rich

Though few of his peers are as politically engaged as Shchitov, an overwhelming majority share his party's view of Putin as a strong leader who transformed Russia into a stable, prosperous country demanding respect on the world stage.