Cablegate: Varied Explanations for Stavropol Ethnic Clashes

DE RUEHMO #3255/01 1841308
R 031308Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

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1. (SBU) Summary: During an embassy visit on June 19-20,
leaders of the Stavropol city and regional government,
political parties, NGOs, and ethnic groups gave conflicting
explanations for last month's mob violence between Russians
and Chechens in the city center. Many of the explanations
suggest both a conscious effort to conceal dirty laundry, and
a widely-held belief in conspiracy theories. While there may
be some truth in the different versions making the rounds,
the most likely cause -- namely that ethnic tensions between
ethnic Russians and people from the Caucasus exist near the
surface and sometimes boil over -- remains unaddressed and
threatens to erupt again in the near future. End summary.

Ethnic Tension and Mob Violence in Stavropol

2. (SBU) On May 25, a Chechen resident of Stavropol was
killed during a brawl between Russians and Chechens outside a
gambling hall in the city's industrial district. On June 3
(in what appears to be a completely unrelated incident), two
Russian students were found stabbed to death in the city
center. Rumors spread that this had been a revenge killing
by the Chechens, and on the evenings of June 4 and 5,
approximately 700 young men and teenagers, some with banners
and signs with slogans like "Chechens go home!" gathered in
the central square. After drowning out attempts by Stavropol
Mayor Kuzmin and the acting Vice Governor to address and calm
the crowd, participants in the demonstration marched out of
the square and smashed shops and cars (some with drivers in
them). Local leaders and police were taken by surprise and
were slow to react. Within three days, the authorities were
able to return the situation to normal, but only after
extensive national media coverage.

3. (SBU) During our visit to the city in late June we saw
little evidence of the violence, except boarded up windows on
some shops. There were some signs of ethnic tension: In and
near the city center, we observed nationalist and neo-fascist
graffiti and bumper stickers. In the government buildings,
there were few signs of non-Russians, and ethnic minorities
had only token representation in the Kray Duma. However, we
also saw plenty of examples of interethnic couples walking
hand-in-hand through the parks, friends having dinner
together, and many successful small businesses operated by

--------------------------------------------- ------------
The Government: There Are No Ethnic Problems in Stavropol
--------------------------------------------- ------------

4. (SBU) The Governor's office was at pains to highlight the
interethnic character and harmony of Stavropol Kray. "More
than 100 nationalities have lived here together in peace for
more than 150 years," said Aleksey Bednov, the governor's
representative in Moscow. When the two Russian students were
murdered in May, he said, the mass media spread rumors of a
Chechen revenge killing. Stavropol Duma Deputy and local
leader of the LDPR, Ilya Drozdor added, "These rumors were
untrue, of course, but because that is how the Chechens are,
the people readily believed it." (Note: video footage of the
murder of the Russian students showed a Slavic-looking

5. (SBU) Mayor Kuzmin said that the fighting in Lenin Square
(in the city center, adjacent to the governor's office and
the Kray Duma) was simply a case of students "blowing off
steam" at the end of the school year. He said that there was
in fact no ethnic character to the fighting, and that the
mass media had sensationalized the story. He claimed that
while the scale of the fighting took them by surprise, the
fact that there had been no fighting before or since proved
that there is not an ethnic tension problem in the city.

Conspiracy Theories

6. (SBU) Some leaders did admit that there was a problem, but
blamed it on "outsiders" who were stirring up troubles for
their own ends. In a meeting of the Stavropol Kray
Commission of Nationalities, the local Ossetian leader Alan
Misikov presented a spirited defense of interethnic harmony
in the Kray which was now threatened by outsiders. "There
were 14 provocateurs who came from Moscow to start this
trouble. They pretended to be Russian nationalists and tried
to whip up racial hatred, but they failed." When pressed for
details, he claimed that, "these provocateurs, who escaped

MOSCOW 00003255 002.2 OF 002

back to Moscow, were sent by (the Other Russia's) Kasparov,
Kasyanov, and the others, and funded from London."

7. (SBU) The Head of the Governor's Commission on
Nationalities, Vasiliy Shnyukov agreed with Misikov and added
that the authorities were investigating to find the identity
of the provocateurs. He said that to control the situation,
he and the Governor had called together leaders of several
ethnic groups and told them to "get control of their people"
and warned them not to be used by outsiders. Shnyukov told
us that the leaders of the Chechen and Russian communities
were regrettably unable to attend the meeting, but that they
were full and willing participants in ensuring that there was
peace among the groups. The leader of the Dagestani group
clearly did not agree with this explanation, but was abruptly
cut off by Shnyukov when he began to speak.

8. (SBU) Conspiracy theories were not confined to the
government. The local leader of the NGO "Golos," Vasiliy
Krasulya, proposed a different conspiracy theory, claiming
that, "the Kremlin sent agents down to agitate and provoke
the Chechens and instigate these clashes as a pretext to a
clampdown on dissent. Their goal is to get people accustomed
to these types of measures, to make these techniques familiar
and acceptable." He noted that the demonstrations in the
square on June 4 and 5 were not authorized, and that any
other such demonstration lacking official sanction would have
been quickly dispersed. (Biographical note: Krasulya, who was
earlier active in Yabloko and an editor-in-chief of a
Stavropol newspaper, successfully appealed his conviction for
defaming Governor Chernogorov. In February 2007, the
European Court of Human Rights overturned his conviction and
awarded him EUR 4000 in damages.)

--------------------------------------------- ----------
A Simpler Explanation: Interethnic Tensions Boiled Over
--------------------------------------------- ----------

9. (SBU) Comment: The simplest and most likely explanation is
that there is indeed a fair amount of ethnic tension in the
region between the 80 percent Russian majority and the
multitude of Caucasian and other ethnic groups in the Kray,
and that this tension boiled over in a mixture of ethnic
hatred, rumor, drunkenness, and teenage exuberance. While
things are quiet now, the probability of renewed violence
remains, especially since there appears to be no government
plan to address the root causes of the problem.

© Scoop Media

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