Friday, April 29, 2016

In Effort to Limit Radical Islam, Russian Prisons Try but Fail to Spark Inter-Ethnic Conflict, Former Prisoner Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 29 – Russian jailors have tried to provoke inter-ethnic conflicts among Central Asians and Caucasians in order to limit the spread of radical Islam in the Russian prison system, but according to an ethnic Russian who was in prison for six years, they have largely failed to achieve their goal.

            Not only has Islamism continued to spread among prisoners including among ethnic Russians and others from nationalities not traditionally Islamic, Viktor Lukovenko says; but non-Russians are increasingly united against their jailors either on the basis of Islam or a recognition that they must stand together (

            “There are very few ethnic conflicts” in Russian jails, the former prisoner says, “despite all the efforts of the staff [of Russian prisons] to use this factor in their operational work” out of a desire to divide and conquer the inmates by preventing them from uniting against the authorities.

            According to Lukovenko, “the criminal world understands that [any] division on the basis of nationality is its weak side, and all of them work in order to smooth things over.”  And that form of solidarity too, he suggests, is part of the reason that Islamic ideas are spreading ever more rapidly among Russian prisoners.

            Earlier this year, the Russian penal system high command announced its intentions to step up the struggle with communities of radical Muslims behind bard, the so-called “prison jamaats” where so many Islamists in the post-Soviet space were first recruited (

            (This problem has long been recognized with many Moscow commentators complaining that Russian prisons are becoming the primary recruiting centers for radical Islamists in Russia (, and some calling for isolating the Islamists in separate prisons, a strategy that hasn’t worked in many places (

            Lukovenko, who now is a graduate student in economics at Moscow State University, spent a year in Moscow’s Butyrka prison, sometime in transit facilitis, and four years at a strict regime camp near Ulan-Ude in the Transbaikal.

            He told the news agency that in Moscow prisons today, “the absolute majority” of prisoners are people from the Caucasus and Central Asia and that in the cells where he was kept nine out of ten were from those regions, while one was a Slav. Significantly, some of the guards were also of these nationalities.

            The former prisoner said that in his experience, in the prisons and transit camps of Russia, “ever more often fell radically inclined Muslims from the republics of the North Caucasus,” who sometimes came into conflict not with other Muslims but with ordinary criminals.
            Lukovenko pointed out that he is no expert on Islamic and Islamist trends, but from what he could see, many of the radicals were Salafis who distinguished themselves from others by wearing long beards and praying regularly and in front of other prisoners.

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