News / Europe

Russia Tightens Security After Nationalist Riot Near Kremlin

Football fans clash with riot police in central Moscow after Yegor Sviridov, 28, a dedicated fan of the Spartak Moscow football team was shot dead earlier this month, Dec 11, 2010
Football fans clash with riot police in central Moscow after Yegor Sviridov, 28, a dedicated fan of the Spartak Moscow football team was shot dead earlier this month, Dec 11, 2010


James Brooke

Russian authorities closed Red Square and cordoned off the Kremlin after President Dmitry Medvedev warned race riots threaten "the stability of the state."

Hundreds of riot police, dressed in black helmets and bullet-proof vests closed off public squares and underground rail stations around the Kremlin late Monday. Russia's president sternly warned against a repeat of last weekend's nationalist violence.

Using the Russian word "pogrom," President Dmitry Medvedev warned Russians that incitement to ethnic or religious hatred could destabilize Russia, a multi-ethnic and multi-faith nation.

On Monday, Russians looked in shock at the images of last weekend's violence in downtown Moscow: hundreds of young men raising their right arms in stiff-armed Nazi salutes against the red brick walls of the Kremlin; young men in black hoods attacking riot police with chunks of ice, burning flares, glass bottles and steel rods; five young men from Caucasus, blood streaming down their faces, cowering behind policemen who rescued them from nationalist attackers.

Demonstrators chanted "Russia for Russians" and chanted "2-8-2," calling for Russia to abolish a law that makes it a crime to incite ethnic hatred.

Far outnumbered, police arrested only 80 of the 5,000 nationalists, pushing most of them into subway stations. Once in the subway, gangs of youths ran through trains, chanting 'White Car, White car,'' beating non-Slavic riders.

By morning, gangs had shot a shop clerk from Armenia, shot a shop assistant from Azerbaijan, fractured the skull of another man from the Caucasus, and knifed to death a man from Kyrgyzstan

A leader of the banned group Slavic Union, Dmitry Dyomushkin, said in an interview the Kremlin should expel the heavily Muslim republics of the Caucasus from the Russian Federation. He said that labor migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia should remember that they come to Moscow as guests.

The membership of Russian nationalist groups often overlap with football-team support groups. In the past six months, nationalists have drawn large turnouts to demonstrations protesting the murders of two fans of Moscow's Spartak football club. In each case, suspects from the Caucasus were detained, then released.

Center for Political Technologies analyst Alexei Mukhin said that fans believe Russia's pervasive corruption extends to homicide investigations, resulting in suspects buying their way out of jail. Mukin said anger over police corruption fuels protests.

Last week, after the latest murder, 1,000 Spartak fans blocked the main highway to Moscow's busiest airport. After this protest, one murder suspect was arrested. After the massive protest outside the Kremlin walls, police detained three more suspects.

In recent days, thousands have turned out for nationalist protests in the cities of Rostov and St. Petersburg. In Rostov, 1,000 students were joined by paramilitary units of Cossacks, a group that carried out many pogroms against ethnic and religious minorities during the days of Czarist Russia.

In light of this history of inter-ethnic violence, Russian Orthodox Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin has called for authorities, migrant workers and native Russians to take "immediate steps" to keep football violence from becoming an "ethnic war."

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