Radicalization of the Russian Far Right?

Agents from the Adygei Department of the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) announced yesterday that they have detained Viktor Milkov, 23, a student at the Adygei Technological University, as the source of execution video “An Execution of a Tadjik and Dagestani”. Milkov is a member of the National Socialist Party of Russia, and according to police, has been disseminating Nazi propaganda via the Internet for two years. Milkov, who goes by the handle vik23 on Russian Live Journal, has been identified as providing the first link to the video which has been the topic of heated discussion in the Live Journal community. Who created the video and committed the executions is still unknown but the group claiming responsibility of the act, the National Socialist Party of Rus has claimed to be a militant wing of the National Socialist Society. The latter group is known for participating in the “Russians March” and attacks on gay pride parades. It has denied any link to Milkov or the National Socialist Party of Rus. An MVD spokesman said that Mikov will be charged under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, “Incitement of National, Racial, or Religious Enmity” i.e. the extremist law. Conviction carries a sentence up to five years imprisonment.

The authenticity of the video and what it signifies has been a much debated topic in the Russian blogosphere and media. Among Russian authorities, the video has engendered questions about whether the internet requires regulation. The Russian state newspaper, Rossiiskaya gazeta assured readers that the MVD would eventually identify the makers of the video with the help of international law enforcement agencies from several states, including the United States. International agreements for the regulation of the internet were made during the last G-8 meeting for “cooperation in the control of the internet,” the paper said. But for Russia, immediate regulation is premature. Despite the much discussed and cited “extremist law,” “the internet is not recognized as mass media and the majority of laws that relate to it don’t apply.” Under the auspices of anti-terrorism, the Russia MVD has been urging the creation of laws to “directly prohibit the posting of similar sites” to those deemed extremist.

There has been increased activity among Russian fascist, ultranationalist, and skinhead groups in the last few years. For example, in May, Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights reported that his organization tallied more than 70,000 skinheads in Russia, up from 50,000 two years before. “Nowadays, they could be found in each regional center, they are emerging even in small towns and villages. In big cities, the attacks happen nearly each day and murders [are committed] weekly. It shows the activity of skinheads has grown and the essence of their offense has become more aggressive and criminal,” Brod was quoted in Kommersant. The SOVA Center reported that 37 people have been killed in racially motivated attacks, a 22 percent increase from last year. In an article on the execution video, Novaya gazeta noted that its brutality points to a possible “sharp radicalization of Russian Nazis.” “It’s one thing when several people attack a immigrant worker. This requires no courage. But to commit murder in cold blood in front of a camera–this is something completely different. Real psychos are needed for such a display of murder,” a Moscow antifa activist familiar with fascist youth groups told the paper.

The video’s appearance, some might say, is a strange coincidence. Monday night’s bombing of the Neva Express, which injured 27 people, is now suspected to be the work of ultranationalists. A source close to the investigation told Interfax, that “the top lead” pointed to “representatives of extremist nationalist organizations were involved in this terrorist act”. The Moscow Times reports that investigators questioned members of Novgorod branch of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration. Police surmise a possible ultranationalist link because the bomb resembles one used to blow up the Grozny-Moscow train in 2005.

Whether there is a direct link between the execution video and the train bombing is impossible to say. The two incidents could be individual and uncoordinated acts that are part of a general escalation in ultranationalist activity. If anything, they two incidents raise questions about the strength and threat such groups pose to the Russian social order. Many have lambasted the Kremlin’s heavy response to liberal and opposition forces, citing that the extremist law was illegal applied to them. The recent case against Yabloko in Krasnodar is just one example. As is the Kremlin’s banning of the left wing National Bolshevik Party and cracking down on other radical leftist groups. But it appears that the real threat is coming from the far right. Yet despite this increase, few are asking where this spike in racial violence is coming from beyond blanket statements about some kind of inherent or culturally rooted racism. Couldn’t the roots also lie in the social-economic structure of Putinism itself? Could Putin’s success–stabilization, prosperity, and a strengthening of the Russian state–also be generating expectations from the young, male, Russian population who’ve received little benefit from Russia’s economic boom, but feel that they deserve to? Like most societies that experience increases in racial and ethnic strife, the disenfranchised majority tends to see its marginalization as the result of the Other’s benefit.

Granted, state rhetoric has stepped up of late against ultranationalism, and it seems that there are more and more cases where the extremist law is applied to Russian fascists. However, human rights activists continue to point to the Kremlin’s reluctance to crack down as hard on the right as it does the left. One wonders if last week’s verdict in a St. Petersburg court sentencing a 14 year old to 12 years in prison for the murder of an anti-racist activist is part of a change of course. In response to the verdict, Aleksandr Brod said, “On the whole, it’s a fair verdict. Judges are progressively awakening to the danger of growing fascist tendencies in Russia. In our view, a tough response from prosecutors and judges is one of the best ways to fight xenophobia and neofascism.” One can only hope that he’s right.