Putin’s Former KGB Higher School Classmate: Kremlin Is Creeping Into Inter-Ethnic War – OpEd


Former KGB intelligence officer and Vladimir Putin’s former KGB Higher School classmate Yuri Shvets expressed his opinion on the air of his author’s YouTube channel on the aftermath of the terrorist act in the Crocus City Hall. According to him, “the Kremlin is creeping into an inter-ethnic war”.  He said: “Twelve people were arrested in Moscow following the events in Crocus City Hall. Almost all of them are Tajiks. Now what is next? [What I think comes] next is an inter-ethnic conflict that may develop into a war. This is the worst powder keg the country has. In the wake of the Crocus City events, one Russian MP said: ‘Our guys will come and crack down on you, unbelievers, non-Christians, and non-Whites’. Putin urged to rein hurrah-patriots. But those are his base, the Russian world. It [that base] is what everything began from. He [Putin] urged to roll this all thing up. And he [Putin] said: ‘When I say Russians, it means all those living in the Russian territory’. But the spark is already there, and the fire is lit. That’s why there is no calm among Tajiks, there is no calm in the Muslim community of Moscow, and there is no calm in Muslim communities throughout Russia and neighboring countries.”

Yuri Shvets’ opinion concerning the character of the Putin regime’s social base resonates well with that of one of Russia’s most well-known TV journalists and Kremlin critics, Aleksander Nevzorov. 

Here’s what the latter had said long before what happened in Crocus City Hall: “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. 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, rights, exclusive opportunities, and dignity. And I have to upset you here – it won’t be possible to push this racism back to 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”.

And now Vladimir Putin kind of wants ‘this all thing to be rolled up’. But it doesn’t seem to be working. Here’s an illustration of how public opinion is being formed in Russia following the Crocus City Hall events. 

A.Sevastianov, who posted quite a large piece entitled ‘Tajiks in Crocus: First blood’ on Livejournal, said: “Whoever was behind the terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall, the terrorist act itself became possible just due to one factor: ethnic enmity, ethnic hatred that many Tajik people harbor for the Russian people. There is no need to [further] incite this hatred and enmity, and I, God forbid, don’t do this. They are already burning bright enough, and I’m simply stating that fact. But this fact needs to be known, understood, and taken into account, and we should draw the right conclusions from it if we do not want to live in our own country with an eye on others and see in every Asian we meet a potential murderer and rapist with a knife in his bosom”.

A.Sevastianov then flatly stated: “Crime has a nationality. The terrorist attack only revealed and made obvious what had been kept under wraps until now: the true attitude of the mass of Tajiks towards us, Russians. The view that ethnic identity supposedly does not matter here is a lie and the position of an ostrich”.

A.Sevastianov and those who are sharing this opinion are categorically tuned, and there is no sense arguing with them. No one from them wonders what was and is the way Tajiks were and are being treated in Russia by the ethnic Russian majority and the Russian authorities. If one tells ethnic Russians that Russia is very far from serving as an inspiration in the struggle against racism and racial discrimination – even quite the contrary, they’ll be offended. 

At the same time, among the majority of ethnic Russians, expression of contempt or disgust to even the most prominent members of other racial groups is perceived as an act to be proud of. Here it would be enough to simply cite as an example the case of Irina Rodnina, an MP from the Kremlin’s United Russia party and a triple Olympic champion figure-skater, who “posted an image of Barack Obama on Twitter that was photo-shopped to include a banana”. The incident “was widely discussed in the Russian press, with many commentators coming” to the defense of the MP. So the people of Central Asian or Buryat, Karmyk, Yakut origin and the ones of their kind, who face verbal and physical abuses regularly in Russia, should not hope for some kind of public sympathy. The model of racial contempt to Central Asian migrants, as well as to the Russian Federation’s ethnic minorities of Asian origin, is often being shaped by leading Russian politicians and Moscow television celebrities in front of millions-strong audience across the national TV networks and multiple digital and social media.

At the same time, ordinary Russians are told by the Russian politicians and media that there is no racism and xenophobia in Russia.   It is convenient for them to believe in this. Many ethnic Russians think of themselves as kind and sympathetic, which others allegedly take advantage of. Maybe that’s true, but such goodness on their part as a rule does not apply to those they perceive to be non-Russians and non-Whites.

Those whom the Russian majority in Russia are used to calling ‘non-Russians’ usually are non-Whites or non-Caucasians. 

Therefore, it seems a bit odd that Tajiks, who are regarded as the only indigenous ethnic group belonging to the European race in China, are also subjected to racism and xenophobia in Russia. But there are such cases. And here is proof of that.

In February 2004, Khursheda Sultonova, a 9-year-old Tajik girl was murdered in St. Petersburg by a group of young guys armed with baseball bats, chains and knives, shouting the slogans ‘Get out of Russia!’ and ‘Beat the Blacks!’. She died after being severely beaten and stabbed 11 times in the face and neck. Amnesty International considered the murder of Khursheda Sultonova to be one of the worst racially motivated crimes in Russia. Yet the eight teenagers who had been brought to court, were accused of hooliganism and cleared by the Russian court of the motive of racial murder. Since the early 2000s, there have been many murders and crimes of aggression motivated by racism in Russia. Yet the Russian authorities have never admitted this. It has long been established practice there to record those criminal actions as hooliganism, domestic crimes or, in extreme cases, as actions motivated by national hostility rather than qualifying them as such.

And here is one other illustration of it. On April 8, 2016, in a Moscow subway train, on the stretch between Novye Cheryomushky and Kaluzhskaya stations, Sergey Tsarev, a white ethnic Russian, several times shot from a traumatic pistol at the head and stomach of Sulaimon Saidov, also a Tajik, the difference being that he is a man, not a child. Before opening fire, the Russian white supremacist called Saidov’s nephew, Muhammadjon, a ‘black ass’, and said that ‘this is a carriage reserved for Russian [White] people’. S.Tsarev next said directly, “In three minutes, you will no longer be here: I am going to kill you”. Doctors managed to save the Saidov’s life. But he got disability as a result of injury, he can’t work and support his family – his wife and four children. S.Tsarev was convicted. But S.Saidov has remained dissatisfied with the complete disregard demonstrated by the Russian authorities for the motive of racial and ethnic hatred despite the witness statements, motions and complaints of the aggrieved party.

According to Saidov’s lawyer, the recognition of racial and ethnic hatred as motivation [for the crime in this case] by the State represented by law enforcement agencies is important for both his client and Russian society. Disregarding the qualifying feature by the court when rendering a decision on a crime against ethnic minorities creates an atmosphere of impunity in society. The victims do not go to the police thinking that it is useless, and nationalistic and radical circles strengthen their position. Without keeping records of hate crimes neither the authorities nor the civil society has real statistics on such crimes, and therefore, a clear vision on the extent of the problem in the country.

Yet the Russian political, intellectual, and media elites, apparently, have a completely different opinion on this matter. It is very convenient for them to take it that there are no racists in Russia. They seemingly feel quite comfortable in the environment where, on the one hand, one can easily hurt people whom he sees as non-Whites and, on the other, the authorities do not officially recognize the existence of racism and racial discrimination in the country. But such a bias does not lead to anything good.

Akhas Tazhutov

Akhas Tazhutov is a political analyst from Kazakhstan.

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