Courting and cultivating loyalty among Russian youth has long been a part of the Kremlin's governing strategy. But the latest apparent move to command allegiance from younger Russians may be backfiring. When young people in former Soviet republics organised "colour revolutions" to push out undemocratic leaders a decade ago, the Kremlin lent support to Nashi, a nationalist, pro-state youth organisation whose ideals thrive in spin-off groups to this day. When the West began protesting at Russia's annexation of Crimea earlier this year, the Russian government introduced a new patriotism curriculum to emphasise the territories' historic bond. But when Russian authorities started going after outspoken pop icons this autumn, they struck a nerve with many young people who claim to be largely apolitical but suddenly became wary of officials muzzling stars of their generation. "I'm not that involved in politics. I'm more interested in what's happening to my idols, and politics only as a consequence of that," said Alexei Kornev, 19, a student from Tomsk who studies in Moscow. "But nobody and nothing should be in the way of music." For Kornev and many others, the performer whose experience inspired such concerns is Russia's biggest homegrown hip-hop star, Ivan Alekseev - better known by his rap alias, Noize MC. Noize MC has been a figure on the music scene for seven or eight years. He never really went head-on with the government until a few months ago, when he began to get heat for accepting a Ukrainian flag from a female fan during a music festival in Lviv, Ukraine. It happened in August as Ukrainian officials were openly accusing Russia of aiding separatists fighting a war in the east of the country. Noize MC accepted the flag as he sang Tanzy , a remix of a Ukrainian song he has been rapping in Russian since 2012. "I didn't think of it as something specific or important," Alekseev said during an interview in Moscow. "I was just in Ukraine and sang in Ukrainian, and someone gave me a Ukrainian flag. And in Ukraine, everything was OK - it was totally fine." But when the pictures from the show emerged, Russia was not fine with the display of solidarity with its Slavic neighbour. Within weeks, most of the star's live shows were cancelled under pressure from authorities, he said, or raided by federal drug officials and bomb squads reporting tips of criminal activity. Alekseev said more than 60 per cent of his shows were cancelled, including almost every stop on a tour of Siberia and Russia's Far East - where authorities even met him and his band at their hotels and train stations, he said, to keep them from playing alternative venues. "It was [like] if you were doing a three-day tour of gigs in Ohio and you have guys from the CIA, FBI and local police coming and telling you to go," Alekseev said. Each time, the reaction on Noize MC's social-media pages was a mixture of confusion, shock and anger. "It's stupid. It happened because Noize appeared onstage in Ukraine, and they called him a traitor," said Egor Kaluga, 21, who likened the cancellations to something out of Soviet times. "Then, there were persecutions of non-conformist artists, but with Noize MC, there is no politics. He only speaks his opinion - he doesn't call on anyone to do anything."