Vienna, March 12 – For the first time ever, the Russian government has explicitly acknowledged a danger many Moscow and international human rights organizations have pointed to for a long time: neo-Nazi youth groups are “one of the major terrorist threats” to the Russian Federation.
The acknowledgement came yesterday when the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK) put out a press release about the results Russian security and force structures achieved during 2008, a report that suggested that in many areas Moscow was continuing to make progress against the terrorist threat (www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2009/03/12/society/399123/).
While the NAK said that the Russian agencies had prevented numerous attacks and had reduced the activities of terrorist “band formations” in the North Caucasus, the committee said that there had been an activation of “neo-Nazi youth groups, which have adopted the tactic of force in their extremist actions.”
The interior ministry, which is represented on the NAK, said that the number of participants in various radical movements had now reached 200,000 – significantly more than most human rights groups have claimed – and that approximately 10,000 people are facing charges of extremist crimes.
According to “Moskovsky komsomolets” journalist Dmitry Popov, the authorities have taken this step not only because neo-fascist skinheads have shifted from ordinary crimes to the use of explosives but also because “representatives of the powers that be have begun to receive threats from the nationalists.”
The government’s admissions on this point are certain to generate a large number of commentaries and to spark fears among many ordinary Russians as to the direction their country and its government are now taking, possibly leading some of them to volunteer for the new “self-defense” groups Moscow wants to organize or to arm themselves in the name of self-defense.
One of the first comments on the NAK report came last night on Ekho Moskvy radio. Sergey Sokolov, the chief editor of the independent Moscow newspaper “Novaya gazeta,” said that the government’s acknowledgement was “entirely justified but also extremely late in coming” (www.echo.msk.ru/news/578003-echo.html).
Had the Russian authorities acknowledged this problem several years ago rather than denying it with formulas like “the country that defeated fascism cannot give rise to fascist groups,” he continued, it might have been possible to deal with this problem more easily than responding to this threat now will be.
But there is an even more serious issue involved, Sokolov said, one that the NAK report does not address: “who and how are these neo-Nazi groups being protected, who is using them for their own political and other goals? These people represent a greater danger than the neo-Nazis they are using.”
Consequently, while one can only welcome the decision of the NAK to acknowledge the problem at long last, the editor said, Russians need to ask whether the government will be able to respond effectively given the way in which the powers that be have played with this issue in various ways up to now.
That Moscow might not be able to counter this threat now even if the leadership wants to was suggested in a commentary by a Russian nationalist group about a February 26 discussion at the interior ministry in which senior officials called for using the harshest measures against anti-government protests (www.anvictory.org/index.php?name=pages&op=view&id=248).
According to analysts of the self-proclaimed Academy of National Victory (ANV), senior interior ministry, OMON, and other agencies called for the use of the harshest measures to crush any opposition in the streets, a reaction the ANV analysts said reflected their concerns about what had happened in Vladivostok a month earlier.
In order to rein in demonstrations against Vladimir Putin’s increase in import duties on foreign cars, Moscow had to dispatch interior ministry units from around the country because the local interior forces either refused to take action or because the central authorities were afraid that they might join the protesters if they were ordered to crush them.
As the ANV put it, “shooting at the people in fact is not so simple even for big money.” The general may believe otherwise, but they “they will not be shooting at the people; they will be sitting out [any such situation] in their offices.” And those who will be ordered to do so many be less willing to act given the regime’s unwillingness to defend those who serve its interests.
That last comment is a reference to Moscow’s decision to bring charges against officers like Arakcheyev and Budanov for crimes committed in Chechnya, charges that has outraged many Russians and beyond any doubt have raised questions in the minds of some about the risk they could run if they followed orders to shoot opponents of the regime.