Daily Archives: January 2, 2007

Happy New Year in Russia Means Out with the New, in with the Old

The Russian foreign ministry has spoken out in opposition to the Iraqi government’s liquidation of crazed dictator Saddam Hussein. RIA Novosti reports:

The execution of the former Iraqi president has led to escalation of violence in the mid-East country, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sunday. Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging early Saturday. He was sentenced to death November 5 for the 1982 reprisal slayings of 148 Shiite Muslims from a town where assassins allegedly tried to kill the former Iraqi leader. “Instead of so much needed national reconciliation and concord, the Iraqi people are facing a new wave of fratricide and numerous casualties,” Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement. The Russian diplomat said this fact should be recognized “by all those who have sent troops to Iraq and whose ‘coalition liberation mission’ resulted in an execution of the former notorious dictator.” Kamynin said that these [coalition] forces are responsible for the current crisis and bloodshed in Iraq. “A hasty and cruel execution, which its external supporters were not ashamed to broadcast to the whole world, will certainly widen the split in the Iraqi society,” he said.

Interestingly, one news outlet (in India) has translated Kamynin’s remarks differently: Instead of the “resulted in the execution” it stated “resulted in the murder.” Whether the translation is accurate or not, it does seem to reflect the general attitude in Moscow. Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky certainly took the latter view, organizing a protest of the killing at the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow. A Duma leader merely referred to the killing as “illogical” since he predicted it would lead to an increase of tensions rather than a decrease. No such views were expressed by Russians, of course, when Shamil Basayev met his end in Chechnya.

Russian opposition to the demise of Hussein, one of the world’s most brutal and genocidal dictators, shows the utter absence from Russian foreign policy not merely of morality but of rationality. Blinded by knee-jerk hatred of all things Western just as in Soviet times, Russia simply does not care, just as the USSR did not, whether it utterly alienates itself in the eyes of the world and seems to enjoy barrelling down the road of hypocrisy and failure that can only lead to its destruction. As if to confirm this, Russia also announced that, no matter what the world thinks, it is going to make friends with North Korea:

Russia is determined to strengthen its ties with North Korea despite the reclusive Asian dictatorship’s illegal nuclear program.

“Our goal is to develop and deepen these (Russian-North Korean) relations, despite the current situation,” Valery Sukhinin, Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to North Korea, said Friday according to a report carried by the RIA Novosti news agency.

RIA Novosti described Sukhinin as an expert on North Korea who had already spent 17 years there, including time studying at Pyongyang University.

According to the agency, Sukhinin said Russia and North Korea had historically been friends. He said “the resolution of the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear crisis remains a common task for all participants of the six-party talks, which comprise Russia, China, Japan, the two Koreas and the United States.”

In September 2005, North Korea agreed to scrap its nuclear program in return for international aid and security guarantees. However, it has continued to develop ballistic missiles and in October carried out its first underground nuclear test.

“We believe that this problem should be resolved on the basis of the September 2005 joint statement, and we are focusing our efforts in that direction,” Sukhinin said.

RIA Novosti said Sukhinin intends to start his tour as ambassador in January.

Sukhinin believes that economic relations between Russia and North Korea should be improved once North Korea pays back to Russia the $8 billion debt it borrowed from the former Soviet Union, the Russian news agency said.

The Return of "Tantrum Politics"

The LA Times reports that Russia has returned to the childish Soviet tradition of “tantrum politics” as it’s sole pathetic means of responding to being denied what it wants (well, that and murder):

Russia has brandished a new weapon in its diplomatic arsenal: the Security Council tantrum.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin barged out of the U.N. chamber Dec. 11, canceling a crucial meeting on Iran’s nuclear program.

Asked to explain why the 15-nation council’s major powers would not be able to address the Iranian nuclear crisis, Churkin said: “Because. Because I said so.”

The Russian’s outburst reflected anger over a U.S. decision to raise concern about political developments in Belarus, a Russian ally that has gained international condemnation for its repressive policies.

But it also echoed a classic Soviet practice at the United Nations dating back to 1945, when Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin’s envoy, Andrei Gromyko, also used bluster to exact political concessions, threatening to pull out of the newly created organization unless the Security Council veto was expanded. Stalin won that fight.

The practice reached its peak more than a decade later when another Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, famously banged his shoe on his table in the U.N. General Assembly.

‘A negotiating tactic’

It’s something we used to associate with the Soviets, but the Russians have sort of taken this over,” said Edward Luck, a Columbia University historian who studies the United Nations. “This is a negotiating tactic. The other side has to make it up to you as though you have been deeply offended. We’ve done it at times, and others do it.”

Churkin’s angry reactions to diplomatic affronts have become so common that some U.N. diplomats have invented a word to describe it: Vitalyation (rhymes with “retaliation”). But the former Soviet official has parlayed Russian outrage into tactical diplomatic victories.

2006 in Review: Russia vs. America

Russia and America, by the numbers:

20

Per capita, twenty times more people are killed by fire each year in Russia than in the United States

11

The average wage for an American is eleven times higher than for a Russian (even though per capita wealth generation is only five times greater, because corruption, see below, is three times lower)

5

Per capita, the average American generates five times more wealth than the average Russian, and the average Russian is five times more likely to be murdered than the average American

4

Per capita, four times more people commit suicide in Russia each year than in the United States

3

Russia is three times more corrupt than the United States

2.5

Per capita, America has 2.5 times more international tourism arrivals than Russia

2

Per capita, twice as many people are killed on Russia’s highways each year than the US (even though there are far more cars per capita on the US roadways than on Russia’s). Per capita, twice as many women are murdered by their husbands in Russia compared to the United States. Per capita, nearly twice as many people are killed by cigarette smoking each year in Russia compared to the United States, and nearly twice as many are infected with AIDS. America’s population is double that of Russia and growing, while Russia’s is half that of America’s and shrinking.

0.3

Per capita, 30% more (0.3 times) more Russians get divorced than Americans (though the most minor discrepancy between Americans and Russians on this list, it’s probably the most depressing; it shows that Russian women, like Russians generally, are far more likely than Americans to accept their wretched circumstances rather than try to change them; Russian women are twice as likely to be killed by their husbands, but not twice as likely to divorce them).

Postcard from the Nationalism/Racism Vortex of Putin’s Russia

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Nationalism has been on the rise in Russia, and now it appears it’s out on patrol.

On a recent Sunday morning, three busloads of Russian teenagers wearing green armbands emblazoned with the word “Locals” stormed into a bustling produce market in this Moscow suburb, screaming “Down with migrants!”

They stalked past aisles of dried fruit and pickled garlic, singling out traders with non-Slavic faces and demanding to see passports and proof that their produce was safe. Some of the teens looked to be as young as 14. Though they had no authority, they carried on like immigration agents, barking out demands and commandeering the market for nearly two hours.

“They were humiliating us, and I don’t know why,” said Zoya Abdullayeva, 40, a native of Russia’s restive Chechnya province who sells cabbage at the market. “They looked for anyone with dark hair and dark skin. It was a circus.”

Russia is in the throes of its worst wave of xenophobia since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Ethnic violence is on the rise, nationalist movements are picking up steam and the government has passed anti-migrant laws aimed at placating a nation warier than ever about foreigners’ place in society.

“Protecting” Russian interests

In 2004, 146 non-Russians were victims of ethnic violence, according to the Sova Center, a Moscow human-rights organization that tracks ethnic violence in Russia. This year, there were 437 attacks on non-Russians, 47 of them murders.

Unable to stem the tide of nationalism, the Russian government has taken steps that, to some, appear to fan the flames. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 5 urged stricter enforcement of Russia’s immigration laws, citing the need to “protect the interests of Russian producers and the Russian population at large.”

Deportation of more than 1,000 Georgians followed. Then, at Putin’s request, the government imposed restrictions on migrants that ban them from working at outdoor markets after April 1. The move deals an economic blow to migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia, many of whom work at markets selling produce, clothes and household goods.

In the long run, the Kremlin will have to reconcile its crackdown on migrants with a dwindling population that loses an average of 700,000 people each year and labor shortages that could cripple the economy.

But with parliamentary elections next December and a presidential election in March 2008, the anti-migrant measures are sure to garner favor among Russians who argue that foreigners take away jobs and raise crime rates. Those sentiments are no longer harbored only by Russia’s disgruntled and poorly educated; in many ways, nationalism has gone mainstream.

“In Russia, these xenophobic ideas are shared by well-educated people, well-educated, politically active youth and even by academics,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center. “It has become the dominating idea in society, and that’s a bad sign.”

A year and a half ago, Sergei Fateyev quit his job as an economist at a quasi-governmental firm and formed Mestnye, the Russian word for “locals.” The group takes aim at migrants who “violate our laws and traditions,” Fateyev said during an interview at a posh Moscow nightclub.

His group began with 250 members. Today it is 150,000-strong and enjoys the backing of the governor of the Moscow region, Boris Gromov. The raids carried out by Mestnye on Nov. 26 involved 6,500 members descending on 20 suburban Moscow markets. Traders at the Reutov market said some Mestnye teenagers took over trading stalls, shouting, “Don’t buy goods from migrants–buy from Russian traders!”

“The markets are stuffed with migrants, both illegal and legal,” said Fateyev, 35, an articulate, cautious Russian. “They keep our farmers, Russian farmers, from selling their goods at markets. We don’t know how and where they store their products. Many of them have no medical documents, and they may have an infection that spreads.”

Traders in Reutov said the raids accomplished little. Fights between activists and traders broke out at some of the markets. “They’re just kids, too young to understand anything,” said Elena Ivshina, a trader and ethnic Russian.

While Fateyev’s group is building steam, Alexander Belov’s Movement Against Illegal Immigration is a national phenomenon.

Belov is the poster child for Russian nationalism. When an Aug. 29 bar fight between Russians and Chechens ignited a wave of riots in the northern town of Kondopoga, Belov and his activists appeared on the scene to rev up anger toward local Chechens. Russians responded by firebombing Caucasian-owned restaurants and businesses, prompting scores of local Chechens and other Caucasian migrants to flee.

Belov, 30, calls Russia’s problem with migrants “a disease that needs to be cured right now. I’d even say it’s a little too late.”

“Russia for Russians”

What worries human-rights advocates like Verkhovsky is that the majority of Russians espouse the sentiments Belov preaches. According to a recent poll from the Levada Center in Moscow, 54 percent of respondents backed the slogan “Russia for Russians.” Fifty-two percent support curbing the number of migrants who can enter Russia.

Nationalism is especially prevalent among Russia’s youth, who did not grow up in a Soviet system where Tajiks, Armenians, Georgians, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were all Soviet citizens. Their identification with ethnic Russia, with Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox Church, has strengthened in post-Soviet times. More recently, it has been kick-started by Putin’s push for Russians to regain a sense of national pride.

For many Russians, however, national pride has given way to nationalism, human-rights advocates say.

“They’ve been brought up with these nationalist sentiments,” said Ali Nassor, a lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and co-leader of the St. Petersburg African Union.

St. Petersburg has been the site of a disturbing string of racially motivated attacks against migrants and African and Indian college students in recent years. “The average Russian feels, `These people live here at my expense. I’m poor because of them.’ In this way, migrants become the enemies,” Nassor said.

A byproduct of that hatred has been violence directed at migrants. Kuvanichbek Soltonoyev is one of the latest victims. On Nov. 19, the 26-year-old Kyrgyz construction worker was on a Moscow commuter train when 23 Russian skinheads saw him in a nearly empty car and attacked, said his lawyer, Dmitry Volinkin.

One attacker used a heavy metal chain to pummel Soltonoyev’s head. Others kicked the young Kyrgyz and jumped on his torso, breaking two of his ribs. They tried to throw him out a train window but failed.

“They yelled, `Russia for Russians,’ and `This is a white wagon,'” Volinkin said.

When the train stopped at a depot in Romashkovo, the attackers got off and placed the battered Soltonoyev halfway out of the train car, with his head and torso hanging outside. The attackers stayed on the platform to watch what would happen, but a passenger noticed Soltonoyev and pressed the car’s stop button before the train passed into a tunnel.

The attack fractured Soltonoyev’s skull and left him in a coma for four days. One of his ears was nearly torn off. He is conscious now but faces months of rehabilitation, says his aunt, Kukunay Balkabekova.

Eleven of the 23 attackers were arrested, Volinkin said. Only three remain in custody.

Postcard from the Nationalism/Racism Vortex of Putin’s Russia

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Nationalism has been on the rise in Russia, and now it appears it’s out on patrol.

On a recent Sunday morning, three busloads of Russian teenagers wearing green armbands emblazoned with the word “Locals” stormed into a bustling produce market in this Moscow suburb, screaming “Down with migrants!”

They stalked past aisles of dried fruit and pickled garlic, singling out traders with non-Slavic faces and demanding to see passports and proof that their produce was safe. Some of the teens looked to be as young as 14. Though they had no authority, they carried on like immigration agents, barking out demands and commandeering the market for nearly two hours.

“They were humiliating us, and I don’t know why,” said Zoya Abdullayeva, 40, a native of Russia’s restive Chechnya province who sells cabbage at the market. “They looked for anyone with dark hair and dark skin. It was a circus.”

Russia is in the throes of its worst wave of xenophobia since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Ethnic violence is on the rise, nationalist movements are picking up steam and the government has passed anti-migrant laws aimed at placating a nation warier than ever about foreigners’ place in society.

“Protecting” Russian interests

In 2004, 146 non-Russians were victims of ethnic violence, according to the Sova Center, a Moscow human-rights organization that tracks ethnic violence in Russia. This year, there were 437 attacks on non-Russians, 47 of them murders.

Unable to stem the tide of nationalism, the Russian government has taken steps that, to some, appear to fan the flames. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 5 urged stricter enforcement of Russia’s immigration laws, citing the need to “protect the interests of Russian producers and the Russian population at large.”

Deportation of more than 1,000 Georgians followed. Then, at Putin’s request, the government imposed restrictions on migrants that ban them from working at outdoor markets after April 1. The move deals an economic blow to migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia, many of whom work at markets selling produce, clothes and household goods.

In the long run, the Kremlin will have to reconcile its crackdown on migrants with a dwindling population that loses an average of 700,000 people each year and labor shortages that could cripple the economy.

But with parliamentary elections next December and a presidential election in March 2008, the anti-migrant measures are sure to garner favor among Russians who argue that foreigners take away jobs and raise crime rates. Those sentiments are no longer harbored only by Russia’s disgruntled and poorly educated; in many ways, nationalism has gone mainstream.

“In Russia, these xenophobic ideas are shared by well-educated people, well-educated, politically active youth and even by academics,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center. “It has become the dominating idea in society, and that’s a bad sign.”

A year and a half ago, Sergei Fateyev quit his job as an economist at a quasi-governmental firm and formed Mestnye, the Russian word for “locals.” The group takes aim at migrants who “violate our laws and traditions,” Fateyev said during an interview at a posh Moscow nightclub.

His group began with 250 members. Today it is 150,000-strong and enjoys the backing of the governor of the Moscow region, Boris Gromov. The raids carried out by Mestnye on Nov. 26 involved 6,500 members descending on 20 suburban Moscow markets. Traders at the Reutov market said some Mestnye teenagers took over trading stalls, shouting, “Don’t buy goods from migrants–buy from Russian traders!”

“The markets are stuffed with migrants, both illegal and legal,” said Fateyev, 35, an articulate, cautious Russian. “They keep our farmers, Russian farmers, from selling their goods at markets. We don’t know how and where they store their products. Many of them have no medical documents, and they may have an infection that spreads.”

Traders in Reutov said the raids accomplished little. Fights between activists and traders broke out at some of the markets. “They’re just kids, too young to understand anything,” said Elena Ivshina, a trader and ethnic Russian.

While Fateyev’s group is building steam, Alexander Belov’s Movement Against Illegal Immigration is a national phenomenon.

Belov is the poster child for Russian nationalism. When an Aug. 29 bar fight between Russians and Chechens ignited a wave of riots in the northern town of Kondopoga, Belov and his activists appeared on the scene to rev up anger toward local Chechens. Russians responded by firebombing Caucasian-owned restaurants and businesses, prompting scores of local Chechens and other Caucasian migrants to flee.

Belov, 30, calls Russia’s problem with migrants “a disease that needs to be cured right now. I’d even say it’s a little too late.”

“Russia for Russians”

What worries human-rights advocates like Verkhovsky is that the majority of Russians espouse the sentiments Belov preaches. According to a recent poll from the Levada Center in Moscow, 54 percent of respondents backed the slogan “Russia for Russians.” Fifty-two percent support curbing the number of migrants who can enter Russia.

Nationalism is especially prevalent among Russia’s youth, who did not grow up in a Soviet system where Tajiks, Armenians, Georgians, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were all Soviet citizens. Their identification with ethnic Russia, with Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox Church, has strengthened in post-Soviet times. More recently, it has been kick-started by Putin’s push for Russians to regain a sense of national pride.

For many Russians, however, national pride has given way to nationalism, human-rights advocates say.

“They’ve been brought up with these nationalist sentiments,” said Ali Nassor, a lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and co-leader of the St. Petersburg African Union.

St. Petersburg has been the site of a disturbing string of racially motivated attacks against migrants and African and Indian college students in recent years. “The average Russian feels, `These people live here at my expense. I’m poor because of them.’ In this way, migrants become the enemies,” Nassor said.

A byproduct of that hatred has been violence directed at migrants. Kuvanichbek Soltonoyev is one of the latest victims. On Nov. 19, the 26-year-old Kyrgyz construction worker was on a Moscow commuter train when 23 Russian skinheads saw him in a nearly empty car and attacked, said his lawyer, Dmitry Volinkin.

One attacker used a heavy metal chain to pummel Soltonoyev’s head. Others kicked the young Kyrgyz and jumped on his torso, breaking two of his ribs. They tried to throw him out a train window but failed.

“They yelled, `Russia for Russians,’ and `This is a white wagon,'” Volinkin said.

When the train stopped at a depot in Romashkovo, the attackers got off and placed the battered Soltonoyev halfway out of the train car, with his head and torso hanging outside. The attackers stayed on the platform to watch what would happen, but a passenger noticed Soltonoyev and pressed the car’s stop button before the train passed into a tunnel.

The attack fractured Soltonoyev’s skull and left him in a coma for four days. One of his ears was nearly torn off. He is conscious now but faces months of rehabilitation, says his aunt, Kukunay Balkabekova.

Eleven of the 23 attackers were arrested, Volinkin said. Only three remain in custody.

Postcard from the Nationalism/Racism Vortex of Putin’s Russia

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Nationalism has been on the rise in Russia, and now it appears it’s out on patrol.

On a recent Sunday morning, three busloads of Russian teenagers wearing green armbands emblazoned with the word “Locals” stormed into a bustling produce market in this Moscow suburb, screaming “Down with migrants!”

They stalked past aisles of dried fruit and pickled garlic, singling out traders with non-Slavic faces and demanding to see passports and proof that their produce was safe. Some of the teens looked to be as young as 14. Though they had no authority, they carried on like immigration agents, barking out demands and commandeering the market for nearly two hours.

“They were humiliating us, and I don’t know why,” said Zoya Abdullayeva, 40, a native of Russia’s restive Chechnya province who sells cabbage at the market. “They looked for anyone with dark hair and dark skin. It was a circus.”

Russia is in the throes of its worst wave of xenophobia since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Ethnic violence is on the rise, nationalist movements are picking up steam and the government has passed anti-migrant laws aimed at placating a nation warier than ever about foreigners’ place in society.

“Protecting” Russian interests

In 2004, 146 non-Russians were victims of ethnic violence, according to the Sova Center, a Moscow human-rights organization that tracks ethnic violence in Russia. This year, there were 437 attacks on non-Russians, 47 of them murders.

Unable to stem the tide of nationalism, the Russian government has taken steps that, to some, appear to fan the flames. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 5 urged stricter enforcement of Russia’s immigration laws, citing the need to “protect the interests of Russian producers and the Russian population at large.”

Deportation of more than 1,000 Georgians followed. Then, at Putin’s request, the government imposed restrictions on migrants that ban them from working at outdoor markets after April 1. The move deals an economic blow to migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia, many of whom work at markets selling produce, clothes and household goods.

In the long run, the Kremlin will have to reconcile its crackdown on migrants with a dwindling population that loses an average of 700,000 people each year and labor shortages that could cripple the economy.

But with parliamentary elections next December and a presidential election in March 2008, the anti-migrant measures are sure to garner favor among Russians who argue that foreigners take away jobs and raise crime rates. Those sentiments are no longer harbored only by Russia’s disgruntled and poorly educated; in many ways, nationalism has gone mainstream.

“In Russia, these xenophobic ideas are shared by well-educated people, well-educated, politically active youth and even by academics,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center. “It has become the dominating idea in society, and that’s a bad sign.”

A year and a half ago, Sergei Fateyev quit his job as an economist at a quasi-governmental firm and formed Mestnye, the Russian word for “locals.” The group takes aim at migrants who “violate our laws and traditions,” Fateyev said during an interview at a posh Moscow nightclub.

His group began with 250 members. Today it is 150,000-strong and enjoys the backing of the governor of the Moscow region, Boris Gromov. The raids carried out by Mestnye on Nov. 26 involved 6,500 members descending on 20 suburban Moscow markets. Traders at the Reutov market said some Mestnye teenagers took over trading stalls, shouting, “Don’t buy goods from migrants–buy from Russian traders!”

“The markets are stuffed with migrants, both illegal and legal,” said Fateyev, 35, an articulate, cautious Russian. “They keep our farmers, Russian farmers, from selling their goods at markets. We don’t know how and where they store their products. Many of them have no medical documents, and they may have an infection that spreads.”

Traders in Reutov said the raids accomplished little. Fights between activists and traders broke out at some of the markets. “They’re just kids, too young to understand anything,” said Elena Ivshina, a trader and ethnic Russian.

While Fateyev’s group is building steam, Alexander Belov’s Movement Against Illegal Immigration is a national phenomenon.

Belov is the poster child for Russian nationalism. When an Aug. 29 bar fight between Russians and Chechens ignited a wave of riots in the northern town of Kondopoga, Belov and his activists appeared on the scene to rev up anger toward local Chechens. Russians responded by firebombing Caucasian-owned restaurants and businesses, prompting scores of local Chechens and other Caucasian migrants to flee.

Belov, 30, calls Russia’s problem with migrants “a disease that needs to be cured right now. I’d even say it’s a little too late.”

“Russia for Russians”

What worries human-rights advocates like Verkhovsky is that the majority of Russians espouse the sentiments Belov preaches. According to a recent poll from the Levada Center in Moscow, 54 percent of respondents backed the slogan “Russia for Russians.” Fifty-two percent support curbing the number of migrants who can enter Russia.

Nationalism is especially prevalent among Russia’s youth, who did not grow up in a Soviet system where Tajiks, Armenians, Georgians, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were all Soviet citizens. Their identification with ethnic Russia, with Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox Church, has strengthened in post-Soviet times. More recently, it has been kick-started by Putin’s push for Russians to regain a sense of national pride.

For many Russians, however, national pride has given way to nationalism, human-rights advocates say.

“They’ve been brought up with these nationalist sentiments,” said Ali Nassor, a lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and co-leader of the St. Petersburg African Union.

St. Petersburg has been the site of a disturbing string of racially motivated attacks against migrants and African and Indian college students in recent years. “The average Russian feels, `These people live here at my expense. I’m poor because of them.’ In this way, migrants become the enemies,” Nassor said.

A byproduct of that hatred has been violence directed at migrants. Kuvanichbek Soltonoyev is one of the latest victims. On Nov. 19, the 26-year-old Kyrgyz construction worker was on a Moscow commuter train when 23 Russian skinheads saw him in a nearly empty car and attacked, said his lawyer, Dmitry Volinkin.

One attacker used a heavy metal chain to pummel Soltonoyev’s head. Others kicked the young Kyrgyz and jumped on his torso, breaking two of his ribs. They tried to throw him out a train window but failed.

“They yelled, `Russia for Russians,’ and `This is a white wagon,'” Volinkin said.

When the train stopped at a depot in Romashkovo, the attackers got off and placed the battered Soltonoyev halfway out of the train car, with his head and torso hanging outside. The attackers stayed on the platform to watch what would happen, but a passenger noticed Soltonoyev and pressed the car’s stop button before the train passed into a tunnel.

The attack fractured Soltonoyev’s skull and left him in a coma for four days. One of his ears was nearly torn off. He is conscious now but faces months of rehabilitation, says his aunt, Kukunay Balkabekova.

Eleven of the 23 attackers were arrested, Volinkin said. Only three remain in custody.

Postcard from the Nationalism/Racism Vortex of Putin’s Russia

The Chicago Tribune reports:

Nationalism has been on the rise in Russia, and now it appears it’s out on patrol.

On a recent Sunday morning, three busloads of Russian teenagers wearing green armbands emblazoned with the word “Locals” stormed into a bustling produce market in this Moscow suburb, screaming “Down with migrants!”

They stalked past aisles of dried fruit and pickled garlic, singling out traders with non-Slavic faces and demanding to see passports and proof that their produce was safe. Some of the teens looked to be as young as 14. Though they had no authority, they carried on like immigration agents, barking out demands and commandeering the market for nearly two hours.

“They were humiliating us, and I don’t know why,” said Zoya Abdullayeva, 40, a native of Russia’s restive Chechnya province who sells cabbage at the market. “They looked for anyone with dark hair and dark skin. It was a circus.”

Russia is in the throes of its worst wave of xenophobia since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Ethnic violence is on the rise, nationalist movements are picking up steam and the government has passed anti-migrant laws aimed at placating a nation warier than ever about foreigners’ place in society.

“Protecting” Russian interests

In 2004, 146 non-Russians were victims of ethnic violence, according to the Sova Center, a Moscow human-rights organization that tracks ethnic violence in Russia. This year, there were 437 attacks on non-Russians, 47 of them murders.

Unable to stem the tide of nationalism, the Russian government has taken steps that, to some, appear to fan the flames. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Oct. 5 urged stricter enforcement of Russia’s immigration laws, citing the need to “protect the interests of Russian producers and the Russian population at large.”

Deportation of more than 1,000 Georgians followed. Then, at Putin’s request, the government imposed restrictions on migrants that ban them from working at outdoor markets after April 1. The move deals an economic blow to migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia, many of whom work at markets selling produce, clothes and household goods.

In the long run, the Kremlin will have to reconcile its crackdown on migrants with a dwindling population that loses an average of 700,000 people each year and labor shortages that could cripple the economy.

But with parliamentary elections next December and a presidential election in March 2008, the anti-migrant measures are sure to garner favor among Russians who argue that foreigners take away jobs and raise crime rates. Those sentiments are no longer harbored only by Russia’s disgruntled and poorly educated; in many ways, nationalism has gone mainstream.

“In Russia, these xenophobic ideas are shared by well-educated people, well-educated, politically active youth and even by academics,” said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center. “It has become the dominating idea in society, and that’s a bad sign.”

A year and a half ago, Sergei Fateyev quit his job as an economist at a quasi-governmental firm and formed Mestnye, the Russian word for “locals.” The group takes aim at migrants who “violate our laws and traditions,” Fateyev said during an interview at a posh Moscow nightclub.

His group began with 250 members. Today it is 150,000-strong and enjoys the backing of the governor of the Moscow region, Boris Gromov. The raids carried out by Mestnye on Nov. 26 involved 6,500 members descending on 20 suburban Moscow markets. Traders at the Reutov market said some Mestnye teenagers took over trading stalls, shouting, “Don’t buy goods from migrants–buy from Russian traders!”

“The markets are stuffed with migrants, both illegal and legal,” said Fateyev, 35, an articulate, cautious Russian. “They keep our farmers, Russian farmers, from selling their goods at markets. We don’t know how and where they store their products. Many of them have no medical documents, and they may have an infection that spreads.”

Traders in Reutov said the raids accomplished little. Fights between activists and traders broke out at some of the markets. “They’re just kids, too young to understand anything,” said Elena Ivshina, a trader and ethnic Russian.

While Fateyev’s group is building steam, Alexander Belov’s Movement Against Illegal Immigration is a national phenomenon.

Belov is the poster child for Russian nationalism. When an Aug. 29 bar fight between Russians and Chechens ignited a wave of riots in the northern town of Kondopoga, Belov and his activists appeared on the scene to rev up anger toward local Chechens. Russians responded by firebombing Caucasian-owned restaurants and businesses, prompting scores of local Chechens and other Caucasian migrants to flee.

Belov, 30, calls Russia’s problem with migrants “a disease that needs to be cured right now. I’d even say it’s a little too late.”

“Russia for Russians”

What worries human-rights advocates like Verkhovsky is that the majority of Russians espouse the sentiments Belov preaches. According to a recent poll from the Levada Center in Moscow, 54 percent of respondents backed the slogan “Russia for Russians.” Fifty-two percent support curbing the number of migrants who can enter Russia.

Nationalism is especially prevalent among Russia’s youth, who did not grow up in a Soviet system where Tajiks, Armenians, Georgians, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were all Soviet citizens. Their identification with ethnic Russia, with Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox Church, has strengthened in post-Soviet times. More recently, it has been kick-started by Putin’s push for Russians to regain a sense of national pride.

For many Russians, however, national pride has given way to nationalism, human-rights advocates say.

“They’ve been brought up with these nationalist sentiments,” said Ali Nassor, a lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and co-leader of the St. Petersburg African Union.

St. Petersburg has been the site of a disturbing string of racially motivated attacks against migrants and African and Indian college students in recent years. “The average Russian feels, `These people live here at my expense. I’m poor because of them.’ In this way, migrants become the enemies,” Nassor said.

A byproduct of that hatred has been violence directed at migrants. Kuvanichbek Soltonoyev is one of the latest victims. On Nov. 19, the 26-year-old Kyrgyz construction worker was on a Moscow commuter train when 23 Russian skinheads saw him in a nearly empty car and attacked, said his lawyer, Dmitry Volinkin.

One attacker used a heavy metal chain to pummel Soltonoyev’s head. Others kicked the young Kyrgyz and jumped on his torso, breaking two of his ribs. They tried to throw him out a train window but failed.

“They yelled, `Russia for Russians,’ and `This is a white wagon,'” Volinkin said.

When the train stopped at a depot in Romashkovo, the attackers got off and placed the battered Soltonoyev halfway out of the train car, with his head and torso hanging outside. The attackers stayed on the platform to watch what would happen, but a passenger noticed Soltonoyev and pressed the car’s stop button before the train passed into a tunnel.

The attack fractured Soltonoyev’s skull and left him in a coma for four days. One of his ears was nearly torn off. He is conscious now but faces months of rehabilitation, says his aunt, Kukunay Balkabekova.

Eleven of the 23 attackers were arrested, Volinkin said. Only three remain in custody.