Cablegate: Russia: Xenophobia Remains Serious Problem

DE RUEHMO #0159/01 0230333
R 230333Z JAN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


B: 07 MOSCOW 564
C: 07 MOSCOW 12369
G: 07 MOSCOW 4089
H: 07 MOSCOW 4124


1. (SBU) Xenophobia continues to be a problem in the Russian
Federation. In the last year, the number of violent incidents
against those who are not Russian or who do not look Russian did not
increase as dramatically as it has in the past, but the small but
steady increase reveals an intractable problem with which the
country must come to grips. The number of perpetrators of
hate-related crimes is increasing as skinheads and members of
nationalist groups make their presence felt throughout Russia. The
root causes of xenophobia are difficult to determine, but some
experts point to longstanding social and economic problems that lead
many to promote a message of "Russia for Russians." The government
has sent mixed signals; on the one hand acknowledging the problem
while on the other hand trumpeting messages of Russian greatness
that may feed the phenomenon. Prosecution of hate crimes is
challenging under Russian law, since it requires proof of motive.
The result is that it is easier to prosecute these crimes as
"hooliganism" than as hate-motivated crimes. End summary.

Xenophobic Violence in 2007

2. (SBU) It remains difficult to quantify the true extent of
xenophobic violence. Experts believe that government statistics
underreport the problem of hate-related crimes. At the same time,
official statistics for "extremist" crimes are higher than those of
human rights organizations due to the government's broad definition
of extremism. The Interior Ministry reported 327 crimes related to
extremism during January - November, 2007. Several NGOs, including
the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and the Sova Center, track hate
crime statistics by looking at official statistics while also
collecting anecdotal reports from the media, NGOs and other sources.
As a result of differing data collection methods, the numbers can
vary widely.

3. (U) The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights recently released its
annual report on hate crimes. According to their report for 2007,
the level of xenophobic violence has grown by one-third since 2006
and the number of deaths resulting from hate-motivated violence in
2007 increased by twenty percent. There were 230 incidents of
xenophobic violence in 2007, including 74 deaths and 317 injuries.
Moscow and the Moscow region accounted for 44 deaths and 107 people
injured in hate-related violence in 2007.

4. (U) A recent report by the Sova Center showed numbers that were
little changed from 2006. According to the Center, in 2007, no less
than 550 people were attacked, 68 fatally, for hate-related reasons.
Sova's report noted that these figures do not include
"underreported attacks on homeless people and on lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender people." (In 2007, there were four
murders of homeless people which the police suspected were
perpetrated by neo-Nazis.) By comparison, there were 539 victims of
hate crimes in 2006 including 54 deaths. In 2005, there were 461
victims and 47 deaths. Hate crime incidents have increased every
year since the Sova Center began issuing annual reports in 2003.
Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhniy Novgorod "remain the major
centers of racist violence," the Center reported. Others in the
human rights community also point to Ingushetia as one of the least
tolerant regions of Russia with Kalmykia and Rostov-on-Don also
making that list. The Sova Center's report does not include
statistics for the North Caucasus.

5. (U) Recent incidents from NGO sources and the media include the

- In early December 2007, a Nigerian riding the metro in Moscow was
approached by four skinheads, one of whom pulled out a knife and
asked, "What are you doing in our country?" The man was rescued by
several riders who removed him from the train before the skinheads
could attack.

- On December 1, 2007, journalist and Tuva Government press
secretary Sayana Mongush, was attacked by a group of skinheads on

the St. Petersburg subway (Ref A). Since then, 11 individuals
between the ages of 14 to 18 have been arrested on charges related
to that attack and others, including the murder of a migrant worker
from Uzbekistan.

- On December 11, 2007, a group of people armed with baseball bats
and steel bars attacked construction workers from North Korea in a

MOSCOW 00000159 002 OF 004

Moscow suburb. Of the 39 people attacked, 16 were injured and four
were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. Because the
attackers were from the Caucasus (themselves a minority), law
enforcement officials denied hatred as a motive and attributed the
attack to "hooliganism."

The Perpetrators and Their Victims

6. (SBU) According to Aleksandr Brod of the Moscow Human Rights
Bureau, radical and nationalist organizations are growing in Russia
and there are approximately 70,000 skinheads throughout the country.
Disturbing to Brod is the fact that skinheads are appearing in
small cities in addition to metropolitan areas such as Moscow and
St. Petersburg. Skinheads tend to be young (15-20 years) and
extremely nationalistic. Typically, they have acted in small groups
that are not centrally organized and they communicate via the

7. (SBU) In addition to skinhead groups, Brod told us about
well-organized, national political movements such as the Movement
against Illegal Immigration (Ref B), which is able to organize mass
actions throughout the country. He accused the organization of
sending its representatives to Russian regions in order to further
inflame incidents like the one that led to inter-ethnic riots in
Kondopoga, Republic of Karelia in September 2006.

8. (SBU) The lack of organization among skinheads may be changing.
In St. Petersburg, a recent series of attacks over the course of a
few days showed some level of coordination. The police
investigation following the attacks led to the discovery of an
apartment from which the attacks may have been planned and

9. (SBU) According to Gang Li, UNHCR's Senior Protection Officer in
Moscow, the ethnic groups at greatest risk of ethnic violence in
Russia are North Koreans, Chinese and Uzbeks. He noted that not only
are they at risk of xenophobic violence, but they are at risk of
being forcibly returned to their country of origin by authorities.

10. (SBU) Reverend Robert Bronkema of the Moscow Protestant
Chaplaincy, whose parishioners include many African diplomats,
students and refugees, told us that many live in fear. They do
everything they can to avoid altercations including avoiding stadium
areas and not venturing out on holidays, days when there are high
profile soccer matches, or Hitler's birthday. The Chaplaincy runs a
parish center in Moscow, which Rev. Bronkema described as "a place
where people of color can come and feel safe."

11. (U) In a survey conducted by sociologists of the Public Opinion
Foundation every fourth respondent expressed dislike of certain
ethnic groups. The sociologists warned that the results of the
survey indicate a "dangerously high" level of bigotry in the

Root Causes

12. (U) Some attribute the causes of xenophobia to social and
economic problems in the country. The large and growing gap between
rich and poor, the lack of youth policy and limited opportunities
for some workers may be the reason why young people in particular
are attracted to nationalist groups. Others say economic factors
are just an excuse and that violence against ethnic minorities is
purely based on hatred. Others point to recent history such as the
independence movement in Chechnya and terrorist attacks such as the
Moscow apartment building bombings in 1999, the storming of the
Dubrovka Theater in 2002 and the Beslan school tragedy in 2004, as
events that crystallized xenophobic thinking and provided excuses
for public expressions of racist sentiments.

13. (U) The upsurge in Russian patriotism in recent years may also
be feeding xenophobia. As leaders promote Russian greatness, some
take this a step further to espouse the cause of "Russia for
Russians." Well-known Russian writer Lev Rubinshteyn in his recent
book equated patriotism with xenophobia. Commenting on national
behavior he writes: "patriots and xenophobes, are one and the

Mixed Messages from the Government

14. (U) The government has acknowledged that the problem of
xenophobia exists and is growing. Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir
Lukin, in his report on human rights issued in 2007, stated that
nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments continued growing during
2006. "Cases of racial, ethnic, and religious hatred resulting in
violence and mass clashes became more frequent. Victims of hate
crimes are people of various nationalities - Russian citizens, and
people with non-Slavic appearance in particular, as well as people
from the near and far abroad. Hate crimes are becoming more and more

MOSCOW 00000159 003 OF 004

brutal and cynical and the circles of people involved are widening,"
the report stated. Valeriy Tishkov an anthropologist and member of
the Public Chamber acknowledged "an increase in ultranationalist
sentiments" but noted 2007 was "relatively calm." As proof, he
cited the State Duma campaign in which "the nationalist card was not
played as compared with the previous campaign." He also suggested
that the increase in extremist crimes may reflect improved
performance by law enforcement in detecting these crimes. Despite
official acknowledgment of the problem, Brod told us that after
xenophobic incidents occur, federal and local officials make
statements then "nothing is done" to address the underlying causes.

15. (SBU) The government has sent mixed signals. In January 2007,
under the guise of controlling migration, a limit was imposed on the
percentage of migrants permitted to work in markets (Ref B). The
new limit disproportionately affected Azeri vendors of fruits and
vegetables. In April 2007, this restriction was further expanded to
forbid migrants from selling goods in markets (they are permitted to
own market stalls and work there but they cannot make retail sales.)
The restrictions were an internal political move that fanned
xenophobic sentiments. Putin, for his part, made comments about the
need to "'Russify' the markets." In the fall of 2006, the
government created hysteria against Georgians living in Russia
following Georgia's accusation that several Russian diplomats
serving in Tblisi were spies. Many Georgians were deported,
Georgian restaurants were closed, students with Georgian last names
were forced to leave schools and Russia stopped importing Georgian
wine and mineral water.

16. (SBU) Attempts at the national level to respond to xenophobia
have been limited to non-existent. Brod told us a federal tolerance
program was shut down in 2005 and has not been replaced. A
tolerance program in Moscow featuring billboard messages is underway
and "well-funded," according to Brod. Some in the NGO community
criticize the 250 million ruble campaign as ineffective. Galina
Kozhevnikova of Sova Center told us NGOs that know about these
issues were not consulted and that most of the money has ended up in
the hands of various ethnic groups instead of being used to promote
tolerance and aid those who have been victims of xenophobia. In St.
Petersburg, Governor Matviyenko launched a tolerance program in 2006
which was intended to focus on education and improving inter-ethnic
and inter-faith dialogue. Although a step in the right direction,
the program has received mixed reviews for lack of funds, focus and

17. (SBU) Brod, who was recently appointed to the Public Chamber by
Putin, told us he would like to use the institution to initiate a
tolerance campaign. He is optimistic about his future plans despite
the fact that reports and recommendations generated by the Public
Chamber in the past largely have collected dust. His main goal is
to initiate a new federal tolerance program aimed at involving
authorities more actively in anti-hate crime initiatives and

18. (SBU) In the recent Duma campaign, there was no clear effort to
appeal to nationalist sentiments and the government, in general, has
been at pains to distance itself from xenophobic acts or campaigns.
Moscow Mayor Luzhkov strongly condemned attacks that took place one
evening near the Kremlin in June 2007, by ultranationalists of the
Movement against Illegal Immigration against people from the
Caucasus and Central Asia. One ethnic Armenian woman was
hospitalized with stab wounds and 42 people were detained in the
incident. Luzhkov said: "Any display of chauvinism, xenophobia or
nationalism will be harshly put down in our capital." The annual
nationalist "Russian March" in March, 2007 (Ref C) fell flat when
Moscow city authorities went to great lengths to prevent the march,
which had far fewer participants than organizers expected, from
ballooning out of control. Other such marches including a "Unity
Day" march in Vladivostok in 2006 also fell short of expectations
(Ref D). In 2007, Russia's mainstream nationalist party "Rodina"
was compelled, under Kremlin pressure, to merge with two other
non-nationalist parties and its charismatic political leader,
Dmitriy Rogozin, was appointed Ambassador to NATO, a move many
attributed to the GOR's desire to dampen a nationalist vote.

19. (SBU) At the local level, there is more evidence of willingness
on the part of authorities to deal with intolerance. In
Yekaterinburg, a major destination for migrants from Central Asia
(Reftel E), local officials are developing hostels to house migrants
while they apply for work permits and undergo health examinations.
In addition, the regional government established a labor migration
center to assist migrants with work permits and housing. Trainings
for employers have also been conducted so they understand the law on

20. (SBU) In Karelia, one year after the ethnically fueled riots in
Kondopoga, local officials and Muslim leaders say things have
improved quite a bit (Ref F.) Authorities have tried to generate
dialogue among various ethnic and religious groups and the
prosecution of those involved on both sides in the riots has

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proceeded relatively fairly.

Prosecutors Opt for Easy Conviction

21. (SBU) The prosecution of hate crimes is a mixed bag. From the
prospective of prosecutors, they face the same problems with hate
crime cases as they do with organized crime cases: weak witness
protection and no mechanism for getting cooperating defendant
testimony. Also, some prosecutors are unskilled at presenting cases
in court. Hate crime cases require proof of motive which can be
difficult to prove when other factors such as robbery or drunkenness
are also involved. The result is that it is easier to prosecute
crimes involving hooliganism, which does not require proof of

22. (SBU) The Sova Center reported that prosecution of racist
violence in 2007 slowed down. The center reported that there were
at least 19 court decisions "in connection with racist and neo-nazi
violence," including nine convictions for murder or heavy bodily
harm which resulted in death. The Center noted a "change in
attitude" of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office which they said is less
concerned with high profile crimes. They do credit the Moscow
Prosecutor's Office, however, with recognizing neo-Nazi violence.
Kozhevnikova told us local authorities also have been doing more to
remove racist propaganda such as leaflets and graffiti under the law
on extremism. She noted a downside in the misuse of this same law
against the political opposition and human rights activists.

23. (U) The Embassy's Law Enforcement Section provides extensive
technical assistance to Russian law enforcement and legislators
designed to improve Russia's ability to investigate and prosecute
violent criminal activity, including hate crimes. Prosecutors in
St. Petersburg credited Embassy training for convictions they
obtained in cases involving the skinhead murders of an African
student and a local anti-fascist activist (Reftel G). In addition,
Embassy LES has worked closely with the Presidential Administration
and Duma to draft cooperating witness legislation, which will make
it easier for prosecutors to obtain and use the testimony of
cooperating defendants in court. According to law enforcement
sources, the current absence of such legislation seriously inhibits
the prosecution of hate crimes (Reftel H).

24. (U) USAID has supported small programs in Ryazan, Kazan, Nizhniy
Novgorod, Stavropol and Rostov-on-Don designed to create a climate
of mutual trust between law enforcement and the community and to
counteract intolerance and extremism. Local Tolerance Councils in
each city, comprised of religious and community leaders and members
of the law enforcement community, help to educate the police about
tolerance and hate crimes and to improve inter-ethnic and
inter-religious understanding. USAID also supports the Moscow
Helsinki Group's new program to more closely monitor anti-Semitism
and teach young people about discrimination and tolerance in
selected regions.


25. (SBU) It is difficult to know the true extent of the problem of
xenophobia in Russia. Statistics are of limited use because of
their lack of reliability which is acknowledged by governmental and
non-governmental sources alike. Changing attitudes will require a
long-term solution but in the short term, Russia would do well to
get a handle on the recording of hate crimes by training law
enforcement to recognize and report accurately on hate crimes and to
pass legislation to provide additional legal tools for the
prosecution of these crimes. Until then, the small number of NGOs
that focus on tolerance issues will fight an uphill battle in a
climate where a resurgent Russia promotes messages of Russian
greatness and does little to protect those who are vulnerable.

© Scoop Media

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