Riots expose Russia's problems ahead of World Cup
A massive race-tinged riot outside the Kremlin walls has exposed the problems that Russia faces as it prepares to present a modern new face to the world at the 2018 World Cup.MOSCOW -- A massive race-tinged riot outside the Kremlin walls has exposed the problems that Russia faces as it prepares to present a modern new face to the world at the 2018 World Cup.
President Dmitry Medvedev took to his Twitter page to promise Russians that he would "deal" with the 5,000 ultranationalists and football hooligans who clashed with the police on Manezh Square at the weekend.
Saturday's violence sent more than a dozen people to hospital and degenerated into a tension-fraught weekend that saw sporadic reports of violence throughout the Russian capital.
"We will deal with everyone who defiled things. Everyone. You can be certain of that," Medvedev said.
But media and rights advocates said the ugly scenes of hooded youth chanting "Russia for Russians" exposed a racist malaise at the heart of Russian society just a week after it was awarded the right to host the 2018 World Cup.
"This is a civil war in an ethnic context," the opposition Novaya Gazeta warned on its front page.
"The utter violence on which this state was built and on which our society rests has borne its bloody fruit."
The initial tension was sparked by the death of Yegor Sviridov -- a Spartak Moscow fan who was shot in the head December 4 during a fight with men from the Russia's predominantly-Muslim North Caucasus.
Media reports said police released four of the five suspects only hours after their arrest. A fifth man was shown confessing to the crime on state television but saying that he acted in self defence.
The four suspects' release generated a firestorm of protests on football websites that were quickly picked up by ultranationalists who called on their forces to come out on the streets.
As Russia prepares to host the 2018 World Cup, the link between the extreme right and football fans -- some of whom model themselves on British hooligans and calling themselves "firms" -- will be closely watched by the authorities.
Media reports said Sviridov was a member of Fratriya firm and an active participant in one of the most aggressive fan groups known as The Union.
Some analysts tie the initial rise of xenophobia to the first presidency of Vladimir Putin and his vows to wipe out the Islamist guerrillas in their "outhouse."
But others caution against drawing a direct link to Putin and focus instead on the anti-immigration policies adopted by the various administrations on a more local scale.
"The state clearly does not support the slogans that the people shouted on Manezh," said SOVA human rights centre director Alexander Verkhovsky.
"But if you tie this to the state's policy on migrants and basic rights as a whole, then yes, there is a link."
"The nationalists are enjoying a period of success," said Verkhovsky.
One Russia's largest nationalist movements this weekend issued an email to supporters speaking of an "undeclared war" against migrants from the Caucasus.
"Today we are seeing an undeclared war being waged against Russian people on our streets by people who come from the Caucasus," the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) said in an e-mail to the media.
"Russians have stopped being the owners of their own country," said the letter.
It concluded: "Now we need to solve this problem on a national scale."
Some in the Moscow media questioned whether the country's police force was up to the challenge being posed by the far right.
"The unprofessionalism and corruptness of the law enforcement authorities are one of the main reasons behind what happened," the Vedomosti business daily wrote in a front-page editorial.
Dmitry Zaks / AFP / Expatica