Question To Putin: Is Inter-Ethnic Peace Possible In A Country Where Murdering Asians Is Considered A Less Serious Crime Than Fist-Fighting With White Russians? – OpEd


Arkady Ostrovsky of the Economist, in his article entitled ‘Russia risks becoming ungovernable and descending into chaos’ and published on Nov. 18, 2022, said: “Mr Putin’s war is turning Russia into a failed state, with uncontrolled borders, private military formations, a fleeing population, moral decay and the possibility of civil conflict. And though confidence among Western leaders in Ukraine’s ability to withstand Mr. Putin’s terror has gone up, there is growing concern about Russia’s own ability to survive the war. It could become ungovernable and descend into chaos”.

It cannot be said that the Russian authorities are turning a blind eye to the troubling trend in nowadays Russia that the author talks about. Yet they see the main danger to their country in this sense in the possibility of an interethnic and interfaith explosion. Here is what the Russian presidential administration deputy head, Magomedsalam Magomedov, said in this regard: “Since our country is, along with China, one of the leading centers of power, all efforts of the collective West are aimed at trying to trigger the disintegration of Russia, first of all, through making use of the factor of interethnic relations. Understanding this [obvious fact] is particularly important just now. Just as important therefore is the task of strengthening, developing, and maintaining the centuries-old unity and friendship of representatives of all ethnicities and all religions in the country”.

 The Kremlin and its entourage have seemingly been first most seriously awakened to this kind of danger and publicly expressed their readiness to face it only last spring. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, while holding, via videoconference, a meeting of the Council for Interethnic Relations on May 19, 2023, stated about this problem at a high official level. “Our adversaries believe that Russia’s multi-ethnicity is its weak point, and they are doing everything to divide us. I’m going to say a few more words about this now. The adversaries I mentioned – you know this firsthand – sow the confusion among ethnic communities, allegedly on behalf of the Russian Federation’s ethnicities, create various socio-political associations, that represent only those associations themselves and provocateurs like them, brazenly declare the need for the so-called decolonization of Russia”, the Russian leader said.  

In that speech, he didn’t fail to mention ‘Western ideological templates with their racist neocolonial approaches’, which ‘serve as a guide for such concepts’. Vladimir Putin also talked extensively and in the style of Soviet propaganda about the unshakable friendship of the ethnicities of the country and uttered not a single word about existing problems of inter-ethnic and inter-faith relations in Russia. 

One conclusion you could draw from what the Russian president said in this regard is that there is neither chauvinism nor racism nor racial discrimination in Russia, a country that, according to Richard Spencer, an American neo-Nazi and white supremacist, is the “sole white power in the world”, a country that, according to David Duke, an avowed white supremacist,  neo-Nazi, and former head of the KKK, holds the “key to white survival”. Here, you see, something doesn’t add up. Either because Richard Spencer, David Duke, and their like are wrong or because they are quite right.

It seems that consideration of concrete examples from the life of Russia can help one get one’s own idea about that matter. Let’s resort to this method. So, here are two examples.

 The true picture of the Russian attitude to non-Whites in Russia is for those same people something drastically different than for the Kremlin masters and the infinite host of Russian propagandists. This can be ascertained by getting acquainted with the following tragic story.

When Sergey Nikolaev, a Russian International master in chess of Yakut ethnicity, had been brutally murdered by ‘a gang of racist youths’ near the subway station Yugo Zapadnaya in Moscow, the Moscow City police department immediately dismissed even an ethnic dimension to this murderous assault and stated street conflict as the reason for the murder. The next day, the Russian Deputy Interior Minister said“Ordinary hooliganism became the cause of the incident.  There is no question about any nationalist motive”

Here is what Stanislav Gribach, who was recognized by the prosecution as the main guilty of that murder, says about what had happened then: “We noticed a ‘slant-eyed’ walking towards us. This was just that chess player. One of our guys ran just as he was to that man and shoved a knife into his stomach. Another one started cutting his back. Yet another one was stabbing him in the neck. One of our other guys shoved a burning firework in his face. As for me, I started hitting him with a [baseball] bat, putting all of my anger into those blows and shouting ‘Die!’ This Yakut was, as long as he could speak, yelling: ‘Hey, I’m one of you [a Russian national]!’. This did not help him at all. The bloody massacre continued”.

This is a horrible story, isn’t it?! The most terrible thing, in this case, is that all this was happening at the very heart of Moscow, ‘in broad daylight and under the eyes of the multitudes of passers-by’ – and nobody considered it necessary or possible to just call the police. A single call to the police ‘rung a half hour after’ Sergey Nikolaev died. During that time, thousands of Muscovites passed very close to the scene of the murder. As far as can be judged, all of them remained indifferent to what they had seen over there. Of course, that would have been quite different if Sergey Nikolaev had been an ethnic white Russian or European (Caucasian) looking person. One can make sure of this by drawing attention to the following story.

On October 4, 2021, in a Moscow subway train, on the stretch between Izmailovskaya and Pervomayskaya stations, Roman Kovalev, a white ethnic Russian guy, had been beaten by Magamaali Khanmagomedov, a Dagestani native. The latter explained his action as a reaction to Kovalev’s ‘defiant behavior’. His two fellow countrymen, Ibragim Musalaev and Gasan Zalibekov, were there, but, according to their own words, they did not intervene in the conflict. Ibragim Musalaev said he had attempted to break up the fight. Gasan Zalibekov said he had been telling others not to get involved in it. The relevant video footage generally confirms what they were saying. The two men got into a fistfight. One of them has been getting badly beaten up.

The incident agitated the entire Russian power and community. It remained a major discussion issue on the Russian TV political talks show for a number of days. Aleksander Bastrykin, Chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee, took the case under personal supervision and awarded Valor and Courage medal to Roman Kovalev. In March 2023, his assailants were sentenced to between 8.5 and 12 years’ imprisonment. For comparison: those Russian neo-Nazis who had killed Sergey Nikolaev, a non-White Russian national, had been sentenced to between 3 and 10 years’ imprisonment. 

Here is how the latter sentence 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 the pronouncement of the sentence”, – Borukh Gorin said.

In the latter case described above, Roman Kovalev stood up for a girl, whom, according to him, those three guys pestered. Thus, he provoked aggressive reactions against himself. In the former case, Sergey Nikolaev fell victim to an unprovoked racist attack. He had been picked by the aggressive Russian neo-Nazis at random. It could have been anyone else from among people with East Asian facial features – a Korean, a Buryat, a Chinese, or a Kazakh – in his place.

Russia is apparently very far from serving as an inspiration in the struggle against racism and racial discrimination – even quite the contrary. People with East Asian facial features suffer most from racism in the Russian Federation. Neither the Russian authorities nor mainstream media pay attention to that situation. And it is, to put it mildly. But they are always ready to mouth nice words, yet emptied of meaning, about the unshakable friendship of the ethnicities of Russia. That’s the reality of life in Russia. 

After all the above, the question to Vladimir Putin remains: Is inter-ethnic peace possible in a country where murdering Asians is considered a less serious crime than fist-fighting with white Russians?

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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