Eth­nic ten­sions tar­get­ing mi­grant work­ers rise in Rus­sia

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY MARC BEN­NETTS

MOSCOW | Ris­ing eth­nic ten­sions in Rus­sia sig­nal new dan­gers for Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, who is strug­gling to sup­press dan­ger­ous na­tion­al­ist sym­pa­thies fol­low­ing the coun­try’s most se­ri­ous race riot in three years.

A mob chanted “Rus­sia for Rus­sia” ear­lier this week, as sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple marched through south Moscow’s work­ing­class dis­trict of Biryu­ly­ovo af­ter the killing of a young man by a re­ported mi­grant.

“White power!” yelled ri­ot­ers, many with their faces cov­ered, as they stormed into a mar­ket where large num­bers of mi­grant work­ers are em­ployed.

Oth­ers attacked for­eign-look­ing pedes­tri­ans and over­turned ve­hi­cles. Po­lice made some 400 ar­rests.

“This might not be [civil] war yet, but at Biryu­ly­ovo, we wit­nessed the first high­pro­file episode of an out­pour­ing of built-up anger in the form of civil un­rest in an or­di­nary com­muter dis­trict,” said Vladimir Milov, an op­po­si­tion politi­cian and a for­mer deputy en­ergy min­is­ter.

As the mob raged, se­cu­rity forces locked down the area around the Krem­lin. Scat­tered fight­ing has also con­tin­ued this week, as po­lice de­tained about 300 peo­ple across Moscow on Tues­day evening.

The rat­tled au­thor­i­ties re­acted to the dis­tur­bances by round­ing up more than 1,200mi­grants in a move Amnesty In­ter­na­tional slammed as “deeply dis­crim­i­na­tory and ob­vi­ously un­law­ful.”

In­crease in hate crimes

Mukhamad Amin Madzhumder, the head of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion of Mi­grants, warned Mon­day of an in­crease in hate crimes against the mi­grants, who are mainly Mus­lim.

“The na­tion­al­ists are pur­su­ing their po­lit­i­cal goals. This is clearly very dan­ger­ous,” he said. “We are warn­ing mi­grants to be care­ful for now.”

The dis­or­der was trig­gered by the killing of an eth­nic Rus­sian, Ye­gor Shcherbakov, 25, who was fa­tally stabbed in front of his girl­friend Oct. 10. Po­lice said Wed­nes­day that they had de­tained a 30-year-old na­tive of Azer­bai­jan. The sus­pect was de­liv­ered to Moscow in a he­li­copter from the small town where he had sought to hide out near the Rus­sian cap­i­tal. His ar­rest was the main item on evening news bul­letins.

The riot in south Moscow fol­lowed a sim­i­lar at­tack in south­ern Rus­sia this sum­mer, when res­i­dents of a small town blocked a high­way and de­manded the au­thor­i­ties ex­pel Chechens liv­ing there af­ter a 16-yearold Chechen was charged with killing an off-duty sol­dier in a brawl.

Th­ese two dis­tur­bances were the most se­ri­ous race-re­lated tur­bu­lence in Rus­sia since late 2010, when about 5,000 peo­ple ri­oted in Moscow af­ter an eth­nic Rus­sian soc­cer fan was killed by a group of youths from the North Cau­ca­sus re­gion. Then-Pres­i­dent Dmitry Medvedev called the vi­o­lence “a threat to the very sta­bil­ity of Rus­sia.” But ten­sion has been brew­ing for decades. The col­lapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw an in­crease in eth­nic hos­til­i­ties be­tween eth­nic Rus­sians and mainly Mus­lim res­i­dents of the North Cau­ca­sus re­gion, as well as the large num­bers of mi­grant work­ers who poured into the coun­try in the past decade from im­pov­er­ished for­mer Soviet re­publics in Cen­tral Asia such as Ta­jik­istan and Uzbek­istan.

Rus­sia in­creas­ingly re­lies on cheap la­bor car­ried out by Mus­lim mi­grants, who have played a key role in con­struc­tion for the 2014 Win­ter Olympic Games in Sochi. But the large in­flux of mi­grants, many of whom speak lit­tle Rus­sian, into the coun­try’s na­tion­al­is­tic heart­land has stoked so­cial un­rest.

Af­ter the United States, Rus­sia has the sec­ond high­est num­ber of for­eign mi­grants in the world. There are of­fi­cially 11 mil­lion for­eign­ers in the coun­try, but Rus­sia’s lack of visa re­quire­ments with for­mer Soviet states makes it is dif­fi­cult to keep track of ar­rivals. Mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials es­ti­mate there are 3 mil­lion il­le­gal im­mi­grants in Rus­sia.

In their cam­paigns for Septem­ber’s elec­tion for mayor of Moscow, both the Krem­lin’s can­di­date, even­tual win­ner Sergei Sobyanin, and the op­po­si­tion fig­ure­head, Alexei Navalny, spouted anti-mi­grant rhetoric. Mr. Navalny, who led mass protests against Mr. Putin in 2012, is an undis­guised na­tion­al­ist who has at­tended far-right ral­lies.

“Peo­ple are sim­ply tired of liv­ing in fear,” said Dmitry Dy­omushkin, a na­tion­al­ist leader who took part in talks with po­lice dur­ing the ri­ot­ing in Moscow. “They can’t even go out into the streets any­more.”

But mi­grants also have faced hor­rific as­saults. The most grue­some at­tack was in 2008 when na­tion­al­ists be­headed a man from Ta­jik­istan. This year also has seen a rise in ag­gres­sive raids by far-right vig­i­lante groups on res­i­den­tial build­ings they be­lieve are home to il­le­gal mi­grants. Hu­man rights work­ers say such groups have the tacit ap­proval of the po­lice. In opin­ion polls, about 60 per­cent of Rus­sians reg­u­larly in­di­cate they agree with the na­tion­al­ist slo­gan “Rus­sia for the Rus­sians.”


Po­lice de­tain a Rus­sian na­tion­al­ist pro­tester last week at a Moscow sub­way sta­tion as ten­sions in the coun­try rise amid a wave of hate-crimes against mi­grants.

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