Amnesty accuses Kremlin of inaction as racism spins 'out of control'
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
Published: 04 May 2006
The Kremlin is today accused of having presided over a nation in which racist violence has spun out of control, and of quietly "deferring" to far-right groups who appear able to attack and murder non-white foreigners at will.
The damning allegations are contained in a report on the subject from Amnesty International and are likely to anger President Vladimir Putin, whose country is chairing the G8 group of nations this year for the first time, a role he had hoped would win Russia greater respect.
The timing of the report is also likely to be controversial in the extreme since next Tuesday is Victory Day in Russia, when the country will mark the 61st anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany.
Russia believes that the USSR, and by association Russia, did more than any other country to defeat the scourge of fascism and is reluctant to face accusations that six decades later it may have become a potent breeding ground for neo-Nazis itself.
Amnesty suggested that was exactly what Russia had become, however, and accused the Kremlin of failing to protect its own citizens, and of not doing nearly enough to combat the problem of racism.
"Racist attacks and killings of foreigners and ethnic minorities are reported with shocking regularity in Russia and, disturbingly, their frequency seems to be increasing," the report said. "Anyone who does not look typically ethnic Russian... [is] at risk. The attacks are unexpected and almost always unprompted. The attackers usually attack in large groups, are often armed, for example with baseball bats and knives, and often choose targets who will not be able to defend themselves. Children, people asleep, and people on their own or in a small group have all been targets."
The report said that most of the attacks took place in Moscow, St Petersburg and the university city of Voronezh, and described the victims as students, asylum-seekers, people of Jewish origin, and refugees from Africa and Asia.
It said people from the Middle East, from Latin America, and from former Soviet Central Asia had also been subjected to racist attacks, as had dark-skinned residents of the volatile Caucasus region of southern Russia, notably Chechens.
Human rights activists seeking to prevent such attacks or merely publicise them had, it added, also become targets.
According to the Moscow non-governmental organisation Sova, there were 28 racist murders and 366 racist assaults last year, though Amnesty said it believed the real figures were likely to be much higher due to the authorities' preference for classing racist violence as "hooliganism".
The report attacked the Russian government's response to the problem and suggested that officials were guilty of discrimination and racism. "The response of the Russian authorities to the problem of violent racist attacks has been grossly inadequate. The failure of the state to exercise due diligence in preventing, investigating and prosecuting race-hate crimes seems to have only encouraged the growth of extreme xenophobia and neo-fascism in Russia."
Amnesty called for politicians to speak out more, and said there seemed to have been a strange conspiracy of silence on the issue. "Politicians have ignored the issue and law enforcement officials have either failed to investigate attacks at all, or investigated them inadequately."
In remarks that are certain to incur the wrath of Moscow, the report also repeated hard-hitting allegations by Russia's own human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, accusing the authorities of "demonstrating a degree of deference that is hard to understand, to pro-fascist, extremist nationalist groups" and of deliberately covering up racist crimes.
Such allegations chime with claims from liberal Russian politicians who allege that the Kremlin has deliberately allowed racist violence to spiral out of control so it can pose as the nation's saviour in elections in 2008 and 2009.
The Kremlin dismisses such talk - it believes Russia is facing a smear campaign from the West to prevent it becoming too strong.
A family outing that ended in brutal murder
Khursheda Sultanova, 9, race victim
Khursheda Sultanova, an ethnic Tajik, was living with her family in St Petersburg when she was murdered in a racist attack two years ago.
She was returning home from an evening ice-skating with her father and 11-year old cousin when a group of teenagers armed with knives, metal rods, chains and baseball bats approached. The attackers chanted racist slogans, such as "Russia is for Russians".
Khursheda was stabbed nine times and died at the scene from blood loss. Her father and cousin both suffered severe head injuries. The initial investigation into the attack failed to acknowledge the racial aspect to the case. As late as February 2005, the chief prosecutor Sergei Zaitsev told The St Petersburg Times that it was "an ordinary crime linked to unemployed youths, who were excited after drinking alcohol".
A month later, one individual was charged with murder motivated by racial hatred, while seven others were charged with hooliganism. But when the case finally came to court in March this year, the racial motive for the murder went unrecognised. The jury found the main defendant and six others guilty of hooliganism alone, carrying a maximum sentence of five and a half years' imprisonment.
Cheney: Russian's Putin Restricting Rights
Vice President Dick Cheney accused Vladimir Putin's Russia on Thursday of restricting the rights of its citizens [..]
"In Russia today, opponents of reform are seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade," Cheney told a conference of Eastern European leaders whose countries once lived under Soviet oppression, and now in Russia's shadow. [..]
He said Russia has a choice to make when it comes to reform, and said that in many areas, "from religion and the news media to advocacy groups and political parties, the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of the people."
Other actions "have been counterproductive and could begin to affect relations with other countries," Cheney said, mentioning energy and border issues.
"No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation," he said.
"And no one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic movements."
Russia rattled nerves across Europe last winter when the state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom cut off supplies of natural gas to Ukraine. An agreement eventually ended the impasse, but it raised questions of Russia's dependability as a supplier of energy. [..]
Officials said the remark concerning territorial integrity was meant to apply to Georgia and Moldova, both former portions of the Soviet Union where the administration says Russia is playing an unhelpful role in solving separatist conflicts. [..]
"We will make the case, clearly and confidently, that Russia has nothing to fear and everything to gain from having strong, stable democracies on its borders," the vice president said.
Any criticism of Russia seemed restrained in contrast to the words Cheney used to describe the political situation in Belarus under President Alexander Lukashenko. He said Belarus suffers under "the last dictatorship in Europe" and that its people are denied basic freedoms.
Cheney said he had hoped to meet in Lithuania with Belarus' opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, but he was recently jailed by authorities in Minsk. "The regime should end this injustice and free Mr. Milinkevich, along with other democracy advocates held in captivity," he said. [..]
Serso, I'll be in Moscow from May 31 for several days. Any chance of meeting for a meal and/or drinks?
Mapleleaf, I got your PM, and thank you! I would respond the same way, but due to the Moderators refusing to actually deal with PM harassment problems, I can't reply (although I've NEVER used a PM to harass anyone).
Serso, <dantn22> should work. Give it a try, and let me have your email address.
Kremlin film makes heroes out of paratroops it left to be massacred
By Andrew Osborn
15 May 2006
One of the Russian army's most haunting defeats at the hands of Chechen separatists has been turned into a patriotic war film on the Kremlin's orders.
The bloody episode, in which 85 Russian paratroopers from the same town were massacred on a fog-shrouded Chechen hill in 2000, is known to fascinate President Vladimir Putin.
The incident occurred soon after he became president and ordered Russian troops into Chechnya for the second time in a decade to quell separatist sentiment. At the time, news of the massacre badly dented Russian morale, causing some to question the war, and triggering a national outpouring of grief.
The Kremlin-funded film, Proriv ("Breakthrough"), purports to depict faithfully the military debacle. For some in the Russian army, the film's subject remains a cause of shame since it was poor planning, poor equipment and poor intelligence that landed the paratroops in such a dire predicament.
But the film's makers say that, far from being a cause for regret or shame, their retelling of the story will prompt young people to ponder the meaning of duty and Rodina (Motherland). Though the battle ended in the defeat, it is being held up six years later as an example of sacrifice, bravery and love of country.
The events unfolded between 29 February and 3 March 2000 after 90 Russian paratroopers, all from Pskov, were told to defend a hilltop against a force of 2,000 Chechen fighters.
In the film, the rebels are portrayed as a rag-tag army of extremists, mercenaries, and drug-addicts, intent on breaking out of the hills and swarming into towns and villages to take hostages.
All that stands between them and a bloodbath akin to the Beslan school siege are the 90 men of Sixth Company, many of whom are inexperienced conscripts.
Thick fog prevented the Russian military from providing close air support as its helicopters were not equipped with all-weather radar. Outnumbered and outgunned, the paratroops eventually resort to luring the Chechens towards their own position and summoning planes for a massive air strike on their own position.
Some reports say that the Chechens offered to spare the paratroops' lives if they let the rebels pass, but the Russians refused. Of the original 90 paratroopers, only five survived.
Journalist investigated for mocking Putin
Wed May 24
Prosecutors are investigating a journalist for publishing an article mocking President Vladimir Putin over his call to pay Russian women to have more children, an official said Wednesday.
The article was published by Vladimir Rakhmankov, editor of the online newspaper Kursiv in the central city of Ivanovo, said Andrei Galchenko of the regional prosecutor's office.
The piece poked fun at Putin's recent state of the nation address that called for economic incentives to boost the country's plummeting birth rate. Russian media reported that the publication suggested that animals at a local zoo increased their mating, heeding Putin's call.
Rakhmankov could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His article could not be seen, because the Web site has been shut down.
Galchenko said the investigation was launched because the article "contained phrases of an insulting nature aimed at the president."
If convicted of insulting a representative of the authorities, Rakhmankov faces up to 12 months of corrective labor or a fine, Galchenko said.
The suspect has been summoned for questioning, Galchenko said.
Since coming to power six years ago, Putin has reined in major independent television channels. Critics accuse his government of curtailing freedom of speech.
"This case illustrates the outrageous lengths that authorities will go to silence critical voices," said Ann Cooper, the head of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Police and protesters break up Moscow gay parade
Sat May 27, 2006
Russian police, militant Orthodox Christians and neo-fascists broke up a first ever gay rights march in Moscow on Saturday, but the homosexuals said their short-lived protest as a "great victory".
Activists led by 28-year-old Nikolai Alexeyev had planned to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier -- a symbol of the World War Two struggle against fascism, and one of Russia's most sacred places.
But police closed the gates to the park where the eternal flame burns under the Kremlin walls, and a heavy scrum of women singing hymns and shaven-headed nationalists tried to charge into the gay activists as the march arrived. [..]
City authorities had banned the march, which they called an "outrage to society" [..]. Interfax news agency reported police had detained around 100 people after the clashes.
Even some rival gay activists [..] wished Alexeyev had chosen a less direct way to protest against discrimination and homophobia. Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, and [..] same-sex couples almost never make a public display of their affections.
A gay German member of parliament who attended the rally, Volker Beck, was punched in the face. Beck, a leader of the Greens party and a prominent gay rights leader, was shown in German TV getting hit in the face. Beck told German television, [..] "The security forces did not protect us but instead prevented us from retreating. We were left without any protection."
"MOSCOW IS NOT SODOM"
The marchers, who seemed to number about 40 although an exact count was impossible in the mob, were outnumbered at least twofold by men and women carrying Russian Orthodox icons and chanting "Moscow is not Sodom".
"We must stop them at this first stage, or they'll come and corrupt our children," said Kirill Bolgarin, 24, who had come to protest despite the pouring rain. [..]
Alexeyev had invited gay activists from all across Europe to the march, the culmination of three days of events that were a first Russian attempt to hold a Gay Pride festival like those in Western cities. [..]
Later, when police had formed a line between the two sides, a group of skinheads [..] rushed toward the gay activists. Their faces masked, they threw flares as they ran, but OMON riot police stopped them and dragged them to waiting buses.
Passers-by [..] looked on in disbelief. "I think it is a sexual abnormality, but if these gays want to do it, they should," said Robert Antonov, 35. "Why shouldn't they do what they like? They are people too."
Banned Moscow gay rally broken up
More than 70 people have been arrested in Moscow after activists tried to hold the city's first gay rights rally, despite a ban on the event.
About 50 gay rights supporters were held, as well as 20 people from religious and nationalist groups opposed to the march. [..]
Eyewitnesses said several foreign gay rights activists were beaten by protesters. [..]
Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said he had banned the march because he believed homosexuality was not natural and because the event would cause outrage in society - a position supported by many Christian and Muslim groups.
He said that as long as he was mayor he would not allow such events to take place. [..]