By Richard Arnold
In the Moscow region town of Puskhino, on Thursday, May 15, football fans and other hooligans held another skhod(people’s gathering) which resulted in the arrests of 40 people. The skhod drew around 500 people out into the streets to march in protest to the May 13 murder of 22-year-old Spartak Moscow fan Leonid Safyanikov by two men, one of whom was a migrant from Uzbekistan, Zhazoniyra Akhmed. Following the deadly incident, Akhmed flew to Uzbekistan. The skhod threatened to morph into a pogrom before order was restored by riot police (OMON) and other law enforcement authorities (https://tvrain.ru/articles/bolee_40_chelovek_zaderzhany_v_podmoskovnom_pushkino-368448/). Indeed, several times, the people who had met for the skhod did actually engage in violence, trying to break through to a dormitory where working migrants are known to live. For the most part, however, those who gathered for the skhod were simply content to take an aggressive public stance at an ethnic rally (https://by24.org/2014/05/15/russian_march_in_pushkino/). Zhazoniyra Akhmed was charged under article 111 (intentional infliction of harm to victim, resulting in death), article 166 (stealing a car), and article 167 (intentional damage to others’ property), and ordered detained in absentia. With the help of Uzbekistan’s criminal authorities, the diaspora, and human rights organizations, Akhmed flew back to Moscow and was formally arrested at Domodedovo airport (https://www.vz.ru/news/2014/5/16/687123.html). Other than the immediate events that allowed the protest to happen, the Puskhino skhod is notable for three reasons.
First, it demonstrates the continued success of the Far Right’s tactic of mobilizing ordinary people in response to particular crimes, which are then generalized to an entire ethnic diaspora group. The so-called “Kondopoga technology” (https://jamestownfoundation.blogspot.com/2013/07/pugachyov-and-kondopoga-technology.html) has been used to great effect in generating hostility to migrants in the past. The events of Pushkino demonstrate that this is still an avenue of mobilization open to the Far Right. Similarly, this incident suggests that actors on the Russian Far Right are indeed promoting this as a way to address social problems.
Second, the Pushkino events demonstrate the move of the Far Right toward concentrating on football fans. Since the banning of the Far Right ‘Movement Against Illegal Immigration’ in 2011 (https://rt.com/politics/russia-court-movement-ban/) and the general crackdown on skinhead gangs by the Russian authorities, Far Right groups have tried to recruit supporters amongst soccer fans and team fan clubs. Of course, football fans all across Europe are believed to be affiliated with Far Right organizations, and in Russia the cooperation between the two groups has been well documented. Still, the abandonment of any kind of formal structure outside the groups of football fans is notable.
Third, it foretells that the Russian regime itself may move even further to the right. The protests in 2012 against Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency combined two social opposition forces—the nationalists and the liberals—who might never have had anything to do with one another were it not for Putin’s reelection to the Kremlin. In order to prevent further dissent, the regime repressed the liberals but tried to co-opt the ethno-nationalists, as witnessed by Putin’s use of the term “Russki” (ethnic-Russian) nation in his speech on March 18, welcoming the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol (https://eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/6889). Because the regime now relies on such people for support, it is unable to crack down on expressions of ethnic pride and racism without undermining itself. Hence, the Russian state in the future is likely to permit more skhods and possibly move even further to the right. The riots in Pushkino are perhaps part of a pattern that will set the contours of Russian (and global) politics for a long time to come.