There are threatening trends in Russia, namely the growth of the xenophobic sentiment, the Levada Centre reports. According to its monitoring results, ethnophobia in Russia in 2019 reached 71% against 54% in 2017. Anti-immigrant sentiment also has grown. At the same time, the Russian government is developing the controversial amendments to the Concept of State Migration Policy. They include the creation of a specific mobile application for migrants, which will contain their personal data and display the so-called “index of social trust.”
The crimes based on hate are mostly committed by individuals, not by organised groups. (According to the OSCE, the police registered 576 in 2018, excluding at least 689 acts of extremism). This situation significantly differs from that of Russia 10 years ago when unsystematic far-right movements were much more prevalent in Russia’s political landscape.
The review of ultranationalist groups in Russia
Radical nationalist groups have been active in Russia since the 1990s. From an ideological point of view, they can be divided into two main categories. The first category is based on nostalgia for the Soviet era and the Stalinism romanticisation, combining communism with Russia’s “supremacy” idea. The second one is rooted in monarchism and a manifestation of Black Hundred ultra-conservatism. One example is the National Patriotic Front “Memory,, which appeared in the USSR and began to promote the revival of the monarchy in 1994. Also, during this period, the neo-Eurasianism ideas started to gain popularity with its leading ideologue Alexander Dugin.
An increase in the number of skinheads and neo-Nazi groups took place in the mid- and second half of the 1990s. Both of them professed aggressive racism and xenophobia. The examples include the “National Socialist Russian Workers’ Party,” which operated in Kazan during 1994-1997, and the United Brigade 88 in Moscow, which brought together smaller groups members such as the “Slavic Brotherhood” and “Blood and Honour.”
In 2008, the Russian Interior Ministry set up a unit known as “Center E,” the Department for Countering Extremism. It has, among other things, made serious efforts to counter the far-rightists together with the Federal Security Service, which has been gaining increasing influence under Vladimir Putin. The centre has become an instrument of political repression in Russia.
The nationalist movements instrumentalisation
Putin‘s rise to power coincided with the growing xenophobic sentiments in Russia. The level of nationalist rhetoric in the media increased significantly. And a lot of the nationalist agenda was incorporated into a new system that was gradually getting more conservative, from the Russian Orthodox Church’s active role to anti-LGBT legislation and recent government initiatives in the immigration field. Simultaneously with the neo-Nazis containment, the Presidential Administration attempted to use “street politics” resources for its benefit – to strengthen the regime.
The most striking example is the “Nashi” movement, formed in 2005 with the direct participation of the then Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov. While the “Nashi” positioned themselves, in particular, like anti-fascists, they often took an anti-immigrant stance and attacked (sometimes physically) liberal politicians and activists. In this case, nationalism became an ideological facade – “Nashi,” first of all, were created as a political tool to prevent the revolution in Russia, the fear of which has grown significantly after the Orange Revolution in 2004 in Ukraine.
However, by 2013, the movement had virtually ceased to exist. But it can be said that it has an ideological successor, albeit a less popular one, the “Southeast Radical Block” (SERB). Founded in 2014, from the very beginning it focused on Russian aggression against Ukraine and the Crimea annexation support. In particular, it promoted Novorossiya in south-eastern Ukraine and took part in attempts to seize local state administrations. By the way, SERB (formally) was not even created in Russia, but formed by Igor Beketov, also known as Gosha Tarasevich, a Ukrainian by birth, who later fled to the Russian Federation. There, the SERB quickly adapted and began attacking local liberals and disrupting opposition rallies. However, it is widely known that the organisation is funded by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and overseen by the same “Center E,” that is to counter extremism.
“Nashi” and SERB demonstrate a similarity for nationalist movements in modern Russia. Most of them are allowed to exist only when they share the main components of the Kremlin’s agenda. That applies to those groups, from monarchist groups to the units that promote Pan-Slavism with Russia’s central role, which still operate today.
Moscow fuels hostility to the West
Obviously, ultra-nationalist movements (the list of which is not exhaustive) have several similarities. Firstly, they are usually anti-liberal and anti-Western. That corresponds to Russia’s current plan, under which Moscow regularly fuels hostility to the West. This feature is also beneficial to the Kremlin, which tries to discredit the opposition remnants and describe the opposition as Western influence agents and undermining confidence in the idea of liberalism as it is. Kremlin also positions it as a negative phenomenon that results in moral decline.
Secondly, these movements tend to actively support (or even directly participate in) Russian aggression against Ukraine, making them an efficient tool for hybrid warfare. It involves a large number of proxy actors, from paramilitary biker groups to the Russian Orthodox Church. Perhaps, nationalist movements have found their place in the middle of this chaos, which remains under the Kremlin’s explicit control. It seems that the country that has declared itself the only victor over Nazism and a leader in the struggle against its revival (while blaming practically everyone in it and simultaneously supporting the European far-rightists) has its own problems with ultranationalism, and they are quite significant.
Source: Hybrid Threat Analysis Group