Saturday, April 17, 2010

Did Neo-Fascists Kill Russian Judge?

Last Monday, Eduard Chuvashov, a Russian judge who presided over several high-profile cases involving neo-fascist and skinhead gangs was shot dead outside his Moscow apartment. According to the Washington Post, both the Russian police and human rights groups in Russia believe that Chuvashov may have been killed by other neo-fascists as payback for sending members of two ultra-nationalist gangs to jail.

Just last week Chuvashov sentenced two members of the nationalist, white supremacist “Ryno Gang” to 10 years in prison for killing 20 people. The members of the Ryno Gang posted videos of the murders online and said the people were killed for being “non-Slavic”. In February, Chuvashov sent members of another racist/ultra-nationalist gang, the White Wolves, to jail for murdering immigrants from Central Asia. Now, both the Moscow police and the Moscow branch of Human Rights Watch (two organizations that seldom see things the same way) are speculating that Chuvashov’s death may have been a contract murder staged in retribution for his rulings.

Russia has seen a dramatic rise in racially-motivated attacks during the past decade, shadowing the growth of groups of ethnic Russian young men banding together in loosely associated racist gangs. These gangs often spout a philosophy that is a mix of racism and ultra-nationalism cloaked in white supremacist and Nazi imagery (ignoring totally the fact that the Nazis viewed the Slavic people, like they did the Jews and Gypsies, as an “inferior race”). The usual target for the Russian racists wrath are immigrants from former Soviet states in Southeastern Europe and Central Asia – their darker complexion makes them stand out in Russian cities, while the racist groups blame them for a host of societal ills in Russia including rising crime and unemployment rates.

While the growth of ultra-nationalist groups has been blamed, in part, on Vladimir Putin’s attempts to project an image of Russia as strong and independent during his tenure as President, Russian ultra-nationalist groups tend to view the Putin government as part of the problem – blaming them for not cracking down on immigration and for laws that favor the rich oligarchs over the working classes, among other shortcomings that in their view have weakened Russia. The open question then is just how strong are ultra-nationalist groups in Russia? Last November, an ultra-nationalist group called “Combat 18” claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Nevsky Express, a high-speed, high-profile luxury train liking Russia’s two major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg; an attack that derailed the train and killed 25 people. A Chechen group tied to terror leader Doku Umarov also claimed responsibility so much of the official speculation quickly fell on them instead. But the attack on the Nevsky Express was unlike the bombing of the Moscow subway two weeks ago (also claimed by Umarov), which used suicide bombers on the train itself, not a bomb buried beneath the tracks like the blast that derailed the Nevsky Express. Also, politicians and businessmen traveling between the two cities favor the Nevsky – the very people the ultra-nationalists blame for Russia’s current ills. All of which makes you wonder just how strong are the ultra-nationalist groups in Russia and whether the government would prefer to focus (or just blame) attacks on Chechen/Islamic insurgents since that is an easier narrative for the Russian government to deal with?

In addition to the murder of Judge Chuvashov, ultra-nationalists are also accused of murdering a human rights lawyer and a journalist in Moscow last year as well.
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