Neo-Nazi and extremist nationalist gangs have been operating in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, but two separate attacks in the Moscow region demonstrate the rising power of xenophobic ideas in the country. The first attack occurred at 9:30 p.m. on November 9, when a black Audi A100 blocked a car driven by a man from the Caucasus on the Warsaw highway. Four men in the Audi got out of the vehicle and shot the driver while shouting nationalist slogans. Later that evening, at 11:00 p.m., men from the same car opened fire on a different car also carrying people from the Caucasus. As a result of the two incidents, three men were hospitalized (https://www.interfax.ru/society/news.asp?id=275189). Police are looking for four young Slavic men in connection with the attacks. While it is possible that these racist slogans were an attempt to conceal the true motives of the attackers, the manner and style of the attacks suggest otherwise. The attacks also dramatically underline the nationalist threat that the Russian Federation is facing and that has been manifested in a number of events in the recent past.
These attacks came just days after the so-called “Russian march” that Neo-Nazi groups have held annually on the Day of National Unity (November 4) in the eight years since the holiday was initiated. Federal authorities instituted the holiday ostensibly to celebrate the 1612 expulsion of the Poles from Moscow, but more probably to replace the November 7 Communist holiday that had celebrated the Bolshevik Revolution. In previous years, the march has featured violence and racist slogans. This year’s march in Moscow alone saw between 6,000 and 10,000 people (https://en.rian.ru/russia/20121104/177191062.html). Among the most infamous attendants at the march were the leaders from the “Russkie” wing of the anti-Putin protest movement (Dmitriy Demushkin, Alexander Belov, and Georgy Borovikov), the Russian All-National Union the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, the National-Democratic party, Cossack formations, and many other groups. There were also nationalists from Yeltsin-era extremist movements, such as Boris Mironov and Sergei Baburin. The protestors, who were wearing an abundance of Nazi paraphernalia and Slavic swastikas (kolovrat), threw Nazi salutes and chanted slogans such as “stop feeding the Caucasus—leave that to Allah” and “white race, pure blood” (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/news-releases/2012/11/d25742/). Police reportedly detained 25 people before the match began, but marchers still managed to clash with anti-fascist activists on their way to Suvorokovskaya square. Due to the fact that the Moscow authorities had given approval in previous years to the “Russian march,” they had little choice but to allow it again this year. Other, smaller cities throughout Russia prohibited the march, well aware of its potential to manifest racist sentiments (https://www.itar-tass.com/c39/562155.html).
The “Russian march” took place against the background of the racist violence of the previous month. Russian human rights center SOVA reported that seven people had been killed by extremist violence in Moscow in October 2012 alone, and saw yet more attempts to use the “Kondopoga method” to incite mass violence in small Russian towns (https://www.sova-center.ru/en/xenophobia/news-releases/2012/11/d25706/). Kondopoga is a town in Karelia that erupted in anti-Caucasian pogroms following a 2006 dispute between ethnic Russians and the Caucasian owners of a café. The tactics involve attempts by radical right-wing actors to popularize isolated incidents of dispute between ethnic minorities and Russians in an attempt to promote a more general uprising. SOVA reported at least one such attempt in Chelyabinsk region in October. The “Kondopoga method” was applied successfully by racists in Moscow in 2010, when up to 10,000 Muscovites crowded together on Manezh Square outside the walls of the Kremlin.
The dangers of racist or even nationalist activity in a multi-ethnic country such as Russia are well known. Perhaps first among such dangers is the dangerous polarization of social opinion to a point where the very integrity of the country is threatened. Already, a majority of Russians polled by the Levada center for public opinion and analysis responded as being in favor of letting the North Caucasus secede. Indeed, the phrase “stop feeding the Caucasus” (a reference to Moscow subsidies that benefit the Russian south) has been a favorite slogan of protest leader Alexander Navalny. Simultaneously, there are signs that the Islamic insurgency, which grew out of the debacle in Chechnya, is spreading to the Volga region republic of Tatarstan—the assassination of the moderate mufti Yakupov in July being a case in point (see EDM, October 29). Extremism on both ends of the ideological spectrum thus appears to be rising and could promote mutual radicalization. Further, with the native population of the Russian Federation set to decline over the next 20–30 years, Russian industry is badly in need of migrant labor to ensure its production facilities remain active. This is the thinking behind Moscow’s plans to create a new “Silicon steppe” at Skolkovo near Moscow. The rising prevalence of acts of racist violence in the Russian Federation can only deter skilled migrants from abroad, not to mention the educated Russians who wish to leave their country. Racist acts like the violence in the Moscow region and the “Russian march” may be only individual instances of such activity, but the cumulative effect has implications for Russia and indeed the rest of the world.