Russian Ex-MP A. Nevzorov: Putinism Gave Absolute Carte Blanche To Russian Racism – OpEd


Immediately after the onset of the New Year, the VKontakte page shared the following news: “The first 2023 child was born exactly one minute after midnight, [on January 1] at 00.01, in St. Petersburg. For his mother, 25-year-old native of Tuva, Venera, this was already the second birth – her six-year-old son is waiting for her at home. The newborn is a true giant: weight – 3900g, height – 56 cm. The birth was easy and fast. Mom and baby are in the ward and both are doing well… And in 2022, more than 50 thousand children were born in St. Petersburg. We wish our obstetricians and gynecologists more newborns in the New Year 2023!”

Here is how Newsweek described the reaction of Russian society to the post: “Russian social media users have flooded a page announcing 2023’s first baby born in the country with hundreds of racist comments, after learning that the newborn’s parents are from the remote Siberian region of Tuva, which borders Mongolia”.

It would seem that right now is not a good time in Russia to undermine the unity of the ethnicities or instigate divisions among different groups of society on racial and ethnic grounds, as it, according to its top officials, is at war with the ‘collective West’ plus NATO which aim ‘at isolating, and even dismembering the Russian Federation’

Yet what has been described above is hardly surprising: the vast majority of ordinary ethnic Russians, just as before, appear to be zealously supporting the idea of Russia being white, being nationalist, and people being very proud of their presumed racial superiority with regard to the ethnic groups of [East] Asian or African descent. 

The above story suggests that in this sense, the country has not changed. This can be evidenced by the fact that it has gained media attention from international media and completely ignored by the Russian national television networks and mainstream media. Everything worked out just as it had been in pre-war times. 

Russia’s carefully orchestrated political TV talk shows completely refrain from mentioning cases where Russia’s citizens of non-European (non-Caucasian) ethnic descent have been racially discriminated against. In the tightly controlled world of Kremlin propaganda, some sort of taboo apparently is imposed on this topic. 

But, as they say, ‘you can’t hide the sewn in a bag’. And information about discriminatory attitudes and racial harassment of the minorities of [East] Asian descent in the Russian Federation has long gone beyond Moscow and Russia. 

Here is what Alexander Nevzorov, a former member of the Russian State Duma, Russian commentator and Putin critic who has been sentenced in absentia to eight years behind bars for spreading deliberately false information about Moscow’s armed forces, said in his commentary on the above story: “The Putin regime has become an excellent hothouse for growing this very Russian racism that existed in the USSR, even though having been kept under lock and key and quite strictly persecuted. In the [19]90s, in the years of freedom, such cues in general were unthinkable. Perhaps there were such thoughts in the skulls of the most violent rednecks, but these were things to be concealed and ashamed of. Putinism, having made a bet on the vilest trait in the character of the people, gave absolute carte blanche to Russian racism… Racism has gained strength, voice, right, exclusive opportunities and dignity. And I have to upset you here – it won’t be possible to push this racism back in its former place even after Putin’s death. It will take 20 years of hard, smart work to get rid of this evil, to stuff it back into the hiding cage. It’s a difficult job, and in Russia, there is no strength, nor is there any means and desire to do it”.

It should be recalled that Alexander Nevzorov was forced to leave the country last year and lives abroad now. He is the only one from among those well known throughout Russia who publicly showed compassion for that Tuvan woman in St. Petersburg and subjected racist attacks against her and her newborn baby to ostracization. In Russia itself, opinion leaders, that is, popular journalists, bloggers, television and radio hosts, as well as politicians and other large public figures, did not comment on that case, and this is not surprising. That is a common practice among the Russian political, intellectual and media elites to criticize the anti-racism campaigns that are being carried out in America and Western Europe and say nothing about even the most atrocious racist crimes in their own country. 

Here is one example to illustrate that conclusion. When Sergey Nikolaev, a Russian IM (International master, in chess) of Yakut ethnicity, had been brutally murdered in Moscow his murderers from ‘a gang of racist youths’ who committed this crime, were ‘charged with murder motivated by ethnic discord’. After an intense police investigation and much public and media interest, the trial took place. Here is how it was assessed by Boruch Gorin, head of the public relations department of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia: “If such a [serious] crime, with so many aggravating circumstances, entails such a light penalty, then an outside observer may deem that murder on the basis of national and racial hatred can serve as a mitigating factor at court sentencing [in Russia]. Both society and the criminals themselves perceive it this way”.

“Everything would have been different if the court punished [the perpetrators] to the fullest extent of the law. If it were, the defendants would hardly have dared to [gleefully] shout ‘Sieg Heil’ after pronouncement of the sentence”, – Borukh Gorin added. Here’s what yet needs to be said. 

Even the most reputable Moscow newspapers, like Kommersant, in those days reported that this gang of skinheads had targeted specific victims on the basis of ethnicity. Whereas outside of Russia, the actions of these young people were described as just being racist. They had also brutally beat 4 Central Asians and 3 Chinese and killed Altynbek Ashirov, a Kyrgyz migrant. There clearly was a pattern of targeting on the basis of race. But neither the law enforcement agencies, nor the judicial system, nor the media in Russia publicly recognized these criminals as racists. 

What is there to be surprised, if the next day after the arrest of the murderers of Sergey Nikolaev, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs said: “The reason for what happened was ordinary hooliganism. We are not talking about any nationalist motive here ”?! Ivan Koscheev, who was a member of this gang, later said: “It was quite easy to catch us, but the police was ignoring such cases for a long time. In fact, we were just teenage punks. And the police did not care for the migrants who had been injured or killed”. Just one clarification is needed here. This gang had been in the most cruel way mutilating or murdering mainly those who were people with [East] Asian facial features. 

And it did not matter to them, whether the latter ones came from near or far abroad, or were Russia’s native citizens, such as Yakuts,  Buryats, Tuvans, Kalmyks, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz. In other words, that gang of Russian youths were engaged in a kind of racial cleansing in line with Nazi racist politics. Statements about any of the [East] Asian looking people “having been beaten or murdered by extremist Russians because of belonging to a certain ethnicity or an ethnic minority or because of not being of Slavic ethnicity” are euphemistic tricks used by the Russian authorities, law enforcement agencies and media to mask egregious cases of crimes with purely racist motives. 

For how indeed is it possible to distinguish, among passers-by, a Tatar (Belarusian, Moldavian, etc.) from a Slav or, say, a Kazakh from a Kyrgyz (Altaian, Buryat, etc.)?! The main criterion through which Russian extremists choose their victim in such cases is the distinct racial difference between a person with [East] Asian face features and people of Europeoid or Caucasoid type.

As to the question of how most ordinary ethnic Russian people behave while interacting with a person or people of a different race, there is no need to go far for an answer: Yakuts, Tuvans, Kazakhs and their like with Russian citizenship, while staying outside their autonomous region or places of compact residence of the minorities they belong to, turn out to be surrounded by mostly unfriendly and even hostile people. Here are just a few examples of such a prejudiced attitude towards them from the ethnic Russian majority in Russia. They give an overall picture of their position in the Russian Federation. 

Here is what Alibek Kenesbai, an ethnic Kazakh, native of the Saratov region in Russia, told about the situation of Kazakhs and their like in Russia: “When you live in a village, you do not feel infringements on the basis of nationality, yet should you move to a city, you do. Even in [Saratov] Academy of Public Administration [where Alibek studied], there was a disdaining attitude – ‘a narrow-eyed’, ‘a Black’, ‘Go back to your Kazakhstan’… I also worked in Moscow for six years, and I was facing this there, too. The situation in that regard is much worse there. I was about 22 years old, and I started working as a shop assistant. Now one day an old [Russian] woman comes to a place where I would normally be selling phones and notebooks, and says to other Russians [in that very place]: “Throw him out of here, fire him, why did you hire him?!”.

In Volgograd, a next big Russian city to Saratov down the Volga, Dorji Mandzhiev, a Kalmyk from the Kalmyk Republic, within the Russian Federation, was beaten by Russian guys because he talked on the phone to his wife in his native language. “They told me to get out of here to Kyrgyzstan. When I answered that I lived in Kalmykia, the guys just guffawed and said: “What does it matter, narrow-eyed Cheburek (Untermensch)?!” They next surrounded me and started to beat me”, Dorji Mandzhiev recalled. He then reported the assault to the police and helped them make the identikits of attackers.

Reacting to this incident, Batu Khasikov, head of Kalmykia, pointed to ‘a case of domestic racism’ in Volgograd. It was then stated in this regard by the Volgograd Police Department that ‘we have no official information about this incident having been nationalistically motivated’, and that ‘it was just a robbery’. This is how Russia’s officials reject all allegations of inactivity concerning racially motivated crimes against people of [East] Asian origin. It just remains to be regretted that such actions on the part of the Russian authorities are taking place amidst continuous racial and xenophobic attacks on Kalmyks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and their like, attacks to which law enforcement agents regularly turn a blind eye.

The question, then, is why the countrymen of Venera, a native of Tuva, and her newborn baby, Tuvans, and their like with [East] Asian appearance, such as Russian Kazakhs, Buryats, Kalmyks, Yakuts and Khakasses, are to go to war in Ukraine on behalf of those,  who believe that Russia in its main part should be a racially exclusive homeland for Russians and other people of European (Caucasian) origin, and to be injured, or killed in disproportionately higher numbers than ethnic Russians themselves? 

There is such a view: if your country needs you to go to war, you have to go. Then what are the reasons why Russian Asians, while being citizens of the Russian Federation, may consider their nation’s invasion of Ukraine rather as someone else’s war?! They’re simple and easy to understand. Consider these statistics published by BBC: “The two regions with the highest death tolls are Buryatia (mortality rate: 28.4 deaths per 10,000 young men) and Tuva (27.7)… Among the Buryats and Tuvans, the share among the dead is 5 times higher than their share in the population of the country… In Russia as a whole, the risk of death in Ukraine for Buryats exceeds the risk of death for Russians by about 5 times (500%)”

This situation seems to be typical for all other ethnic minorities of [East] Asian descent in Russia, too. Here is information from Britain’s MOD Defence Intelligence: “In many of the Eastern regions, deaths are likely running, as a percentage of population, at a rate of 30-40 times higher than in Moscow. In many places, ethnic minorities take the biggest hit; in Astrakhan some 75% of casualties come from the minority Kazakh and Tatar populations”. Well, judge for yourself. Astrakhan Kazakhs and Tatars are the second the third biggest ethnic groups in Astrakhan Oblast, making up 17.6% and 5.9% of its population. And meanwhile, they account, according to Britain’s MOD Defence Intelligence, for 75% of those from the Lower Volga region who died in the war in Ukraine. 

And here’s something else. None of the five vice-prime ministers and the eleven ministers in the Government of Astrakhan, and the numerous department heads and division chiefs in the regional administration is an ethnic Kazakh. All those positions relate to the office of Astrakhan oblast Governor Igor Babushkin. Ethnic Kazakhs seem to be not particularly welcome there. What other word is there for it?

In Russia, demand for Kazakhs, Tuvans, Buryats and those of their kind appears when the Kremlin is desperate for cannon fodder, as it is now. Moscow also can manipulate the Russian soldier men with Asian facial features to make them look guilty for war atrocities. So one thing is quite clear: they do not need this war at all.

Akhas Tazhutov, a political analyst

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analysts from Kazakhstan.

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