Russian Nationalism and Xenophobia in May 2023

The following is our monthly review of instances of xenophobia and radical nationalism, along with any government countermeasures, for May 2023.

In May 2023, we became aware of five hate-motivated attacks. Since the beginning of this year, according to our data, no fewer than 12 people have suffered as a result of such incidents.

Nationalists’ traditional May 1 event was not held this year. The Nationalists’ Movement (Dvizhenie Natsionalistov, DN), which had been the organizer of the event in recent years, had intended to hold an online conference, but the initiation of a criminal case against their leader, Vladimir Basmanov, got in the way. Basmanov was charged under multiple articles of the Criminal Code, and was the subject of a series of searches in April. As a result, Basmanov conducted an online seminar about activist safety. Shortly thereafter, on May 12, DN decided to dissolve its operations in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Novosibirsk, taking on an “individual format” of work in other regions.

On May 2, the annual action “Remember Odessa!” was held in commemoration of the tragedy at the Odessa House of Unions in 2014. In Moscow, activists from the National-Democratic Party (NDP) and, separately, two dozen activists from the “Society.Future” association (Obschestvo Buduschee, OB) laid flowers at the memorial to Odesa at the alley of Hero Cities. In St. Petersburg, about 40 OB activists laid flowers at the monument to Catherine the Great, founder of the modern Odesa. Roughly the same number of activists from “Other Russia” held an action at the monument to Defenders of Leningrad on Victory Square, which features a granite memorial to Odesa as a Hero City. OB also reported that it had held actions in Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Samara and Volgodonsk.

On May 8 in Moscow, the Army of the Defenders of the Fatherland (of Ivan Otrakovsky) and the All-Russia Officers’ Assembly held a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was apparently scheduled to coincide with the week of May 2–9. Yet one more “memorial event,” “dedicated to Victory Day,” was held on May 9 in the Moscow region with about 15 activists representing the Russian Union (of Alexei Kochetkov), the RUSOV Movement (of Andrei Rodinov) and “Northern Man” (of Mikhail Mavashi).

This May, the Russian Community ZOV joined an anti-migrant campaign, which has become more visible in the last year, by acting on sports fields. On May 24 in Moscow, activists called riot police to a field where migrants were playing football, alleging that they had ejected children from the area. Riot police responded by detaining the migrants, holding them face-down to the ground, after which they were taken to the police. Protocols were drawn up against them under the Code of Administrative Offenses alleging violation of the rules for entering Russia, petty hooliganism and disobedience to the lawful order of a police officer. In mid-May, in Moscow’s Obruchevsky district, activists from the Russian Community ZOV conducted a threatening “educational conversation” with migrants from Central Asia, also accusing them of forcing the children to leave the sports ground. Meanwhile another action to expel migrants from a similar site took place on May 31 in Sochi. Activists from the group also recorded a video offering their services in "protecting ethnic Russian children" from migrants.

The Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) once again conducted military raids on border villages. On May 22, the RDK, together with the Free Russia Legion, staged a raid to the Bryansk, Kursk and Belgorod regions.  Casualty reports vary, with the Ministry of Defense saying that more than 70 "Ukrainian terrorists" were killed in the fighting, while the Free Russia Legion and the RDK claimed a total of two dead and 10 wounded. Alexei Lyovkin and Kirill Kanakhin of the RDK were spotted among the raid participants.

We recorded cases in which two individuals were convicted of xenophobically motivated violence this May. Since the beginning of the year, we have become aware of no fewer than 10 rulings, against 21 individuals, on the basis of xenophobic violence, and of two convictions of three individuals for xenophobic vandalism. (Here and elsewhere, we report data without reference to court rulings that we consider to be patently improper.)

We also have information regarding the conviction of 11 individuals in May for their participation in extremist communities and organizations. Sanctions were imposed for participation in organizations including the Ukrainian “Right Sector,” which is banned in Russia, as well as the Islamist organization Takfir wal-Hijra and the “Citizens of the USSR” association. In all, we have recorded 30 such sentences imposed on 50 people since the beginning of this year.

Meanwhile, 17 individuals were convicted this month, in as many rulings, on charges of aggressive public statements.

Four of these were convicted under Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code (CC) (public calls to terrorist activity) over radical Islamist propaganda, including in prison. Three more were convicted under Article 280 CC (public calls to extremist activity) over social media posts featuring calls to attack natives of the Caucasus and police. Two others were convicted on a combined charge of both articles, over calls to attack state employees and religious leaders. One “Citizen of the USSR” from Chuvashia was sanctioned under Article 282 CC (incitement to national hatred) over an antisemitic social media post related to the Covid-19 virus. One other person, a prison colony inmate, was convicted under Article 354.1 CC (rehabilitation of Nazism), for demonstrating his own Nazi tattoos to other inmates, as well as for expressing approval of “the extermination of nations: Jews, Poles, Roma and others, including various ethnic and social groups (Soviet prisoners of war, the Russian-speaking population, and others).” The rest were convicted under combined charges featuring Article 205.2 CC and other criminal violations, including, for example, Article 205.1 (assistance in terrorist activity) for agitation and recruitment to ISIL.

Since the beginning of this year, by our data, Russian courts have convicted no less than 93 individuals, in 86 rulings, on charges related to aggressive public statements.

Meanwhile, seven people were fined under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) (production and distribution of extremist materials) over social media reposts featuring xenophobic materials listed in the Federal List of Extremist Materials. These included various musical materials, such as the song “Be White” by the group 25/17, and “They Left (the Shahids)” by Timur Mutsuraev. Since the beginning of 2023, we have learned of 35 court decisions of the kind.

Article 20.3 CAO (propaganda and public display of Nazi symbols and symbols of banned organizations) was used no fewer than 44 times in May 2023. The majority of those sanctioned had attracted liability with posts featuring Nazi symbols to VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. Another seven (five of them being colony inmates) were sanctioned for demonstrating their own swastika tattoos. Additionally, three fans of the St. Petersburg football team Zenit were placed under administrative arrest for shouting Nazi chants on the street (Article 20.1 CAO, petty hooliganism, was also applied); another person was fined for similar shouting on May 9 near a stadium. Fines were also imposed on a citizen who attached a badge with the symbols of the SS division “Death’s Head” to a headdress, and on a gardener who made a swastika-shaped garden bed. In total, since the beginning of the year, we have learned of 169 cases of punishment for such offenses.

No fewer than 10 people faced punishment under Article 20.3.1 CAO (incitement to hatred) over social media posts featuring aggressive statements directed at natives of Central Asia, the Caucasus and Buryatia, “citizens of certain territories,” and the police. One person was placed under administrative arrest, while the others were fined. Since the beginning of this year, we have recorded 61 such rulings.

The Federal List of Extremist Materials was updated twice, on May 3 and 17, to include entries 5342–5344. The list was supplemented by an article-panegyric to the Third Reich, a xenophobic song by the group Bad to the Bonehead, and a parody song, “Welcome to Rossiyaniya,” by hip-hop artist Sasha Skul, founder of the group Buchenwald Flava.

The Federal List of Extremist Organizations was not updated in May. However, the list of organizations recognized as terrorist by the Supreme Court has been updated. The Free Russia Legion was added to the list. The most notable representative of the Legion, Maximilian Andronnikov (call sign “Caesar”), also participated in the combat branch of the Ethnic Russian Imperial Movement (RID) – Imperial Legion in the early 2010s, but in 2014 he changed his views and left for Ukraine. In May 2022, he was put on the wanted list in Russia. According to the Ministry of Interior, Andronnikov was one of the participants in the raid in the Belgorod region on May 22.