Staunton, February 20 – The SOVA rights monitoring organization says that the crackdown on the leaders of Russian nationalist extremists appears to reflect not any increase in the activity of those groups but rather fears that such people “might absorb militants returning from the Donbas” and thus make these groups “a potential threat” to the Kremlin.
In a 47-page report on the state of extreme Russian nationalists in 2015, SOVA analysts say that there was not an increase in activities by these groups during that year but there was a dramatic increase in the efforts of the authorities to decapitate these groups by the use of the courts and other means (tvrain.ru/media/upload/files/doklad_sova_403988.pdf).
“It is possible,” the report says, “that the authorities are afraid that the nationalists, being significantly more oriented toward the use of force than are liberals and the majority of left-wing groups, may become an important force element in a potential and more radical protest movement.”
“A more specific explanation” exists as well: “the isolation from political activity of the more well-known ultra-right leaders and their movements is needed so that they will not be able to absorb militants returning from the Donbas.” Any link up between the one and the other could create a dangerous combination.
At the presentation of report, its authors and the leaders of SOVA did not apparently stress this finding, although it is on page one of the report itself. But they did highlight a number of other conclusions, including the probability that the extreme Russian nationalists are now preparing their ranks and waiting for “x hour” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=56C82580CB6F3).
The authors of the report noted that “no fewer than 11 people” were killed as a result of racist or neo-nazi actions, down from 36 in 2014. Sixty-nine people were wounded in such actions, a figure also down from a year earlier when 133 Russian residents suffered. But if ethnic crimes were down, prosecutions for such actions rose.
Sixty-one Russian nationalists were charged with crimes in 2015, up from 47 in 2014. Most of those charged were accused of violating laws restricting ethnic speech. SOVA experts said that there had been “an unprecedented growth in the number of those sentenced for deprivation of freedom ‘for words alone.’”
Charges against the leaders of some groups led to the disbanding of the groups or at least a decline in their activities and in the number of people prepared to attend nationalist rallies and demonstrations.
But there was one area were in 2015 as in 2014 the Russian nationalist extremists were increasingly active: the organization of sports and training clubs to prepare their members for some future struggle with “’the enemies of the nation,’” whoever they may be. That that is an open question is a potentially serious problem for the Kremlin.