Radicalization of Russian Youth on the Rise

(Source: Meduza)

Last year’s October 31 bombing of an Arkhangelsk Federal Security Service (FSB) office (see EDM, November 9, 2018) triggered an investigation, which recently released its final report. The conclusions of the report reveal that a participant in an online “insurgent speech” chat room, writing under the username “Valeryn Panov,” announced, “Comrades, now in the FSB building in Arkhangelsk there will be a terrorist act, the responsibility for which I take on myself.” The individual declared that the FSB “fabricates cases and tortures people.” In his posts, the author wrote that he would most likely die in the explosion. And indeed, the body of the bomber was found amongst those uncovered in the wreckage. At the end of his messages, he added, “I give light to you, the future of anarcho-Communism!” The identity of the Arkhangelsk FSB office bomber was subsequently revealed to be 17-year-old Mikhail Zhlobeitsky, a well-known local anarchist who had pledged his life to the struggle against the state in previous Internet chat messages (Meduza, April 18, 2019). The investigators concluded that Zhlobeitsky acted alone. Yet, the report sheds light on concerns about the growing radicalization of Russian youth and the state’s crackdown against anarchists.

In truth, the radicalization of Russian youth is becoming a growing trend. Aside from the Arkhangelsk bombing, last year also saw the bombing of and mass shooting at a school in occupied Crimea, as well as a series of knife attacks in Russia schools, both examples of radicalized Russian youth (see EDM, October 22, 2018). The anarcho-Communist organization the “People’s Self-Defense” lists on its website 247 supposed separate actions, including resistance to the practice of “apartment raiding,” whereby authorities fraudulently try to seize apartments from their rightful owners. The information portal Meduza contacted the organization (which itself split in 2013 from the larger organization “Autonomous Action,” formed in 2002), and the latter stressed that it was not connected to Zhlobeitsky’s attack but instead held meetings and pickets to popularize anarchist ideas.

People’s Self Defense’s rising membership has paralleled the number of street actions recorded in Russia, including protests against the 2018 presidential election, during which activists put up stickers that said “Choose freedom, not the President.” Another smaller demonstration carried a banner proclaiming “the FSB is the main terrorist” (Meduza, April 18). Anecdotal evidence from Russians interviewed by the author suggests that the level of public unrest is high, and dissatisfaction with both the low level of economic growth and political stagnation is growing. Consequently, many youth have decided that living a decent life requires leaving Russia altogether (The Moscow Times, February 6). And those who cannot escape are increasingly turning to extremism.

So far, the government has reacted by repressing anarchist groups rather than addressing the root causes of their frustration. For instance, an investigation of the anarchist group “The Network,” which was founded in 2017, recently brought 11 left-wing and anti-fascist activists from St. Petersburg and Penza to trial in St. Petersburg. Despite allegations of torture, a central part of the FSB’s case against the activists is that a paintball-like game hosted by the group was actually training for terrorist acts meant to overthrow the government (Meduza, April 8).

Similarly, since February 2018, the Russian intelligence services have tried to link defendants from various cases with the People’s Self-Defense, such as several anarchists detained in Moscow in March 2018 for allegedly attacking an office belonging to the United Russia political party. Several of the anarchists claimed they were tortured by FSB officials. In another case, also from Moscow, 14 year-old Kirill Kusminkina was arrested in November 2018 on suspicion of constructing an explosive device for use during the annual far-right Russian March demonstrations (Meduza, April 18).

It thus appears that the same social forces that, five or ten years ago, drove Russia’s youth toward neo-Nazism (in 2006, Russia had the highest level of hate crimes of any member of the Organizations for Economic Cooperation and Development) are now contributing to bolstering the ranks of the anarchist movement.