At 8:52 in the morning, on October 31, a 17-year old student and self-described anarchist at the local college walked into the Archangelsk field office of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), pulled a homemade explosive device from his backpack, and detonated it. The bombing, which killed the bomber and injured three others, is just the latest incident in a trend of youth extremism in Russia, which only last month saw a Columbine-style massacre at a school in the coastal city of Kerch, in occupied Crimea (see EDM, October 17). According to media reports, the assailant in Archangelsk claimed he was targeting the FSB because they “fabricate cases and torture people” (Fedpress.ru, October 31). The nature of the attack highlights important developments among ethnic-Russian extremists, who, since roughly 2010, have taken to using direct military attacks against a state that increasingly seems to be losing its monopoly on the use of violence.
Violent attacks targeting the state by Russian nationalist and skinhead groups have been growing more prominent in recent years. From the 2010 Manezh riots in Moscow and murder of federal judge Eduard Chuvashov, to the nationalist participation in protests against Vladimir Putin, many in extremist circles began to see the state itself as the source of their problems. While such attacks abated in the wake of the Crimean annexation, this victory is now receding into memory, so anti-state attacks have again been on an apparent upswing. Last year, for instance, a Neo-Nazi teenager in Khabarovsk launched a shooting attack on an FSB office (see EDM, October 26, 2017). And aside from the recent Kerch tragedy, the past year has seen a spate of knife and gun attacks at Russian schools (see EDM, October 17, 2018). It is too early to speak of a definitive trend, but the sources of Russian youth violence seem more overtly political than in the United States. The attacker at the Kerch college, for example, had numerous anti-government and anti-Nazi memes on his Vkontakte account. The bomber in Archangelsk also fits this pattern, writing in a chat room 8 minutes before the attack: “comrades, a terrorist attack will now be committed in the FSB building, the responsibility for which I take upon myself… I wish you unshakably and uncompromisingly to go toward the goal” (Novaya Gazeta, November 1). While the nature of this cited “goal” is unclear, it seems likely that his statement expresses frustration at the government—a combustible mix in a Russia awash with firearms following the conflicts in the North Caucasus and eastern Ukraine (see EDM, April 11). The combination of a motivated resistance to the government and a ready supply of weapons thus poses a threat to the state’s monopoly on violence.
Indeed, anti-government sentiment was clearly on display at one of this year’s “Russian Marches,” which took place in the Moscow suburb of Lublino, as nationalists have co-opted the Russian Unity Day holiday. Although the 150 estimated people in attendance at this year’s march was significantly below previous years (and even lower than the 200 people in 2017), the government still took the threat seriously enough to detain several nationalist leaders both before and at the rally. Among slogans chanted were “thieves and swindlers, 5 minutes to pack!” and “To hell with the government, the State Duma, the President, and the E-Centers.”They also called for the release of detained nationalist leaders Dmitry Demushkin and Alexander Belov. Police did not allow banners that read “down with the dictatorship!” or banners with overt neo-Nazi slogans. As in years past, there were two other marches in Moscow—at October field and Pushkin Square—which presumably were designed to dilute the numbers of those going to the Lublino march (Sova-Center.ru, November 4). The nationalist street opposition is still evident in contemporary Russia and its frustrations seem likely to grow along with those of Russia’s alienated youth in the absence of another foreign victory, Stalinist-era repression, or liberalization of the system.