The demonstrators who paraded in Moscow on November 4 this year are being portrayed as a threat to the Russian authorities in the run-up to parliamentary elections.
Racist slogans were heard among the crowd, as some 7000 radical nationalists joined an annual demonstration known as the “Russian march”.
They are united in anger: at corruption, crime, immigration – and subsidies for Russia’s mostly Muslim North Caucasus regions.
“Look at Chechnya, swimming in luxury and money,” said Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Tor as he marched with the protesters. “Look at its leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s motorcades, look at the skyscrapers they are building.”
Tor claims that in contrast to the wealth of the Caucasus, many other regions in Russia are in ruins. “The money should be spent there,” he says, “not in the Caucasus.”
In December last year a crowd swarmed at the Kremlin’s gates after a Spartak Moscow football fan was killed by a Muslim migrant in a street brawl.
The demonstrators chanted nationalist slogans such as “Russia for Russians” and clashed with security forces. Passers-by who appeared to be from the Caucasus were reportedly attacked in broad daylight.
There is little evidence of an increase in support for radical groups, but some analysts are worried that their ideas are taking hold.
“The ideas that nationalists are suggesting are slowly becoming mainstream ones. Not immediately, of course, but if you look over a longer period of time – the last 20 years – we can see that a lot of ideas that seemed totally radical and were voiced only by marginal politicians, are now voiced by respectable people. This is a very dangerous shift, because it can make the country far more radical,” said Alexander Verkhovsky of the human rights group Sova.
There are estimates that up to eight million illegal migrants have entered Russia from the Central Asian and Caucasian states.
At the same time, the nationalists’ rallies have become more frequent.
Analysts say the government has surfed on xenophobic sentiment. There are warnings that the conflict could end in bloodshed and even civil war if the Russian government does not stop the nationalists.“From 40 to 50 000 people gather at the mosque every Friday,” said Karomat Sharipov of the Tajik Working Migrants’ movement. “Do you really want to provoke them? Half of them are as brainless as those protesting in the square. Do you really want them to clash?”
Some see signs that the authorities recognise the wave of anti-immigrant feeling is a dangerous problem.
Figures show an increase in the the number of nationalist organisations being closed down, and in the number of convictions for far-right extremism.