Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 77

A key point President Vladimir Putin’s annual State of the Nation address yesterday (April 18) was “the rise of extremism,” which he called a “serious threat” to Russia’s stability and security. This extremism, he said, is expressed “above all in slogans and fascist and nationalist symbols that lead to pogroms, people being beaten up and killed.” “Bands of extremists,” he added, act essentially as organized crime groups and should be treated accordingly by the law enforcement agencies. Yet prosecutors and police, he concluded, do not have “sufficiently effective instruments” for bringing the organizers of extremist crimes to justice.

Putin’s remarks on this issue came amid a series of attacks in Moscow and other parts of Russia by skinhead groups, and with the Russian capital bracing itself for possible violence tomorrow, April 20, which marks the birthday of Adolf Hitler. Over the past week or so, several foreign embassies in Moscow received an email from an “Ivan” warning the citizens of those countries to leave Russia or “be beaten up or killed by us” and threatening to “kill all the foreigners we see” in honor of the Nazi dictator’s birthday. Five days ago (April 15), an Afghan man who worked as translator for Russia’s Interior Ministry was beaten to death by skinheads in central Moscow. Last week, a gang of skinheads assaulted two U.S. marine bodyguards accompanying a senior U.S. official and his wife on a shopping trip. Last month, skinheads attacked the South African ambassador’s wife, burning her with cigarettes (AFP, April 18). Last autumn (October 30), skinheads carried out a series of attacks that began at a market in Moscow’s Tsaritsyno district and then spread to other parts of the district and beyond, targeting members of Caucasus ethnic groups and other minorities, including citizens of Armenia, India and Afghanistan; two people were killed in that violence (see the Monitor, October 31, 2001). Last April, skinheads attacked an Azeri outdoor market in Moscow and stabbed a Chechen man to death in connection with Hitler’s birthday. Skinhead violence has also occurred outside Moscow. Earlier this week, skinheads in the southern Krasnodar region raided an Armenian cemetery and destroyed thirty monuments. On March 31, skinheads vandalized a synagogue in the city of Kostroma, some 340 kilometers northeast of Moscow (Moscow Times, April 18;, April 18).

Moscow police are expecting 4,000-5,000 skinheads to “mark” Hitler’s birthday tomorrow. Other specialists predict that as many as 15,000 will attempt to mark the occasion in the Russian capital. Moscow authorities have stepped up security around the capital and will be on especially heightened alert tomorrow. Some 1,000 additional police have been deployed on the city’s Metro trains and in its stations; extra officers have been dispatched to Moscow railway stations to prevent skinheads from entering the capital from Moscow Oblast and other Russian regions. At the same time, an unnamed police official was quoted as saying that that the police might not be able to prevent violence on the city’s outskirts, where the skinheads are particularly active, given that most of law enforcement’s resources will be concentrated in the city center, where embassies, bars, restaurants and theaters are concentrated. Despite the heightened security, skinhead groups yesterday reportedly called on their members to carry out “demonstration actions” in the capital’s center. Such actions include the raising of flags, chanting of Nazi slogans and attacks on stalls and kiosks belonging to “non-Slavs.” One skinhead reportedly vowed that his group will “kill no fewer than ten” people tomorrow. In an apparent attempt by the authorities to counter such incitement, a skinhead website was taken offline yesterday (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 19).