Russian Nationalism and Xenophobia in June 2023

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

We recorded six hate-motivated attacks in June 2023. In one, a video of which was posted to an ultra-right Telegram channel on June 22, three young people chased and ultimately attacked a fourth, then forced him to kneel, introduce himself on camera, and show his passport. The caption under the video states that their victim is an Ossetian, and that the incident took place in Samara.

Since the beginning of this year, a total of no fewer than 35 individuals have suffered as a result of similar incidents.

We also learned of two cases of xenophobic vandalism in June. Thus, in the village of Krasny Bor, in the Leningrad Region, unknown vandals desecrated graves of Romani people, destroying headstones. Since the beginning of this year, we have recorded four acts of xenophobia vandalism.

The Russian nationalist reaction to the mutiny of Yevgeny Prigozhin of June 23–24 was mixed. The majority condemned the Wagner action as unacceptable during a time of war. Organizations taking this position included the Club of Angry Patriots, created by the leader of the Novorossiya movement Igor Strelkov; the Society.Future movement, Eduard Limonov’s Other Russia party, the Imperial Legion, the Tsargrad movement, the Russian Community (Russkaya Obschina) and others.

Others were less reserved. Vladislav Pozdnyakov (of the banned Male State) suggested "removing two people [Shoigu and Gerasimov], who are already making everyone sick." The Russian-Slavic Association and Revival (RUSOV) noted that “while Prigozhin is carrying out his rebellion,” their “comrades-in-arms from the Sudoplatov battalion” are sitting in the trenches. The leader of the Northern Man organization, Misha Mavashi, called for calm and expressed doubts about the authenticity of Prigozhin's appeals. Meanwhile the Rusich group even condemned the President of the Russian Federation, who refused to "dismiss the two officials of the old school."

The Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) supported the mutiny, calling Prigozhin a “patriot of Russia,” stipulating that he and RDK are “on different sides of the barricades” and have different views on the future of Russia. A representative of the Freedom of Russia legion, Maximilian Andronnikov (“Caesar”), recorded a short audio message in which he rejoiced at the rebellion, but explained that he would fight “both Putin's and Prigozhin's Russia.”

Despite the mutiny and related events, nationalists did not lose sight of the topic of their fight against migrants. Back in May, Tsargrad, the Russian Community, the Northern Man and the Army of Defenders of the Fatherland spread an appeal by residents of the Moscow suburb of Kotelniki, to the authorities in connection with an allegedly large number of migrants in their city. Activists from Northern Man filmed local residents complaining about the migrants, with some alleging threats from them, accusations of drug trafficking, etc. The video was accompanied with footage of people of “non-Slavic appearance” on city’s streets. The Russian Community also participated in a meeting of local residents with the head of the Kotelniki urban district, Sergei Zhigalkin, and the leadership of law enforcement agencies. Nationalists took credit for the fact that, after their appeal, the police carried out several raids on migrants in Kotelniki.

In June, nationalists continued promoting the topic of a migrant “problem” in Kotelniki. In the beginning of the month, together with the Russian People’s Squad (Russkaya Narodnaya Druzhina, a project of the Army of Defenders of the Fatherland), the rightwing blogger Maxim Kalashnikov made a visit to the city. He presented a report entitled “Dushanbe-2,” complete with complaints from local residents about the “dominance of visitors” and promises of the leader of the squad, Yuriy Goroshko, to “protect people from migrants.”

Vigilantism also continued. In June, the Russian Community ZOV continued to patrol playgrounds in Moscow, claiming to “protect ethnic Russian children” from migrants. In addition, nationalists from the Russian Community in Moscow voiced dissatisfaction at trucks in courtyard parking lots, the drivers of which, according to the patrollers, live in Moscow illegally. The activists promised to “deal with” them, as well. Meanwhile, the Yekaterinburg chapter of the Russian Community conducted an inspection of a trading tent, threatened merchants, and filed a complaint against them with the police.

Misha Mavashi of Northern Man gave a speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum focused on the “threat” posed by migrants, the state’s “failed migration policy” and the alleged extinction of ethnic Russians, mentioning among other things the conflict over the proposed construction of a mosque on Moscow’s Svyatoye Lake (the planned site of which, according to the City of Moscow, was moved in April).

In June, we learned of one conviction based on ideologically motivated violence: in this case, six members of an ultra-right group were given suspended sentences in Voronezh. One of the members of the group was charged with causing minor bodily harm motivated by hatred – because of a fight at a meeting of the Voronezh Revolutionary Labor Party, according to law enforcement, started by the far right activists “out of hatred for supporters of communist ideology.” In total, since the beginning of the year, we have recorded 16 sentences for xenophobic or other ideologically motivated violence, against 32 people.

The same Voronezh ultra-right activist and another two members of his group were also charged with xenophobically motivated vandalism for writing “Russia for Russians” on city buildings and a monument to victims of mass killings carried out by anticommunist forces during the Civil War. In total, this year we know of three sentences against five people on the basis of xenophobic vandalism (note however that our data is presented without reference to court decisions that we consider to be patently improper).

SOVA Center’s monitoring also recorded 11 convictions issued in June for participation in extremist societies and organizations. Among the convicted there were three Voronezh residents mentioned above, as well as six others found guilty of alleged participation in the Ukrainian Right Sector. Since the beginning of the year, we have become aware of 38 such sentences against 62 people.

Meanwhile, aggressive public statements were the basis of 18 convictions of 26 individuals in June. Five of these were convicted under Article 205.2 of the Criminal Code (CC) (public calls to terrorist activity) for radical Islamist agitation, calls to violence against members of the security services and stated approval of the acts of Mikhail Zhlobkitsky, the anarcho-communist who suicide bombed an FSB building years ago. Three individuals were sanctioned under Article 280 CC (public incitement to extremist activity) for social media posts featuring calls for violence against government employees. Two individuals were convicted under a combination of both articles over calls to attack natives of Central Asia and members of the security services, and one person – under Article 354.1 CC (rehabilitation of Nazism) for a social media post featuring approval of Hitler’s ideas.

One person, reserve colonel Mikhail Shendakov, was convicted under a combination of CC Articles 280 and 282 (incitement of hatred). He was sentenced to compulsory psychological treatment after publishing a video calling for “violent actions against law enforcement officers and government officials.”

The remainder were charged under combined articles, some with reference to propaganda and accusations of other crimes. For example, the Voronezh case featured Articles 280 and 282 with others regarding violence and vandalism.

Since the beginning of the year, we have recorded 112 court rulings, against 127 people, delivered on the basis of criminal charges related to public statements.

This June we also learned that at least five people had been sanctioned under Article 20.29 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (CAO) (production and distribution of extremist materials) over sharing of xenophobic items listed in the Federal List of Extremist Materials via social media. These included, for example, posts of songs popular among the ultra-right. Two people were placed in administrative detention, while the others were fined. This year in total so far, according to our data, no fewer than 40 individuals in Russia have been sanctioned under this CAO article.

Another 36 individuals faced liability under Article 20.3 CAO (propaganda and public display of Nazi symbols and symbols of banned organizations). One of them had distributed leaflets from the Freedom of Russia Legion, which has been declared a terrorist organization. Ten people, five of them prisoners, were punished for displaying their own tattoos of swastikas and runes associated with the Third Reich. Two people had swastika stickers on their own cars; three had pasted stickers with banned symbols on lampposts; two displayed Nazi symbols on their boots; another shouted a Nazi salute. The rest were punished for posting on social networks (mainly VKontakte and Odnoklassniki) and sending Nazi symbols via WhatsApp. Seven people were placed in administrative detention, and the rest were fined.

This year in total, we have recorded 219 cases of punishment for this particular offense.

As to Article 20.3.1 CAO (incitement to hatred), no fewer than 11 people were fined in June. One of them shouted something racist at a retail employee, and another – at a customer service representative from the Internet provider. The remainder were sanctioned for online activity: primarily sharing of racist materials about natives of Central Asia and the Caucasus and “non-Slavs,” as well as negative statements about representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church and law enforcement officers. Since the beginning of the year, we have become aware of 80 such decisions.

            The Federal List of Extremist Materials was updated three times, on June 13, 22 and 29, to account for new entries 5345–5322. The new entries include a song by the ultra-right group Outlaw Heroes Standing, the book The Gospel of Elizabeth, works by the famous anti-Semitic writer Oleg Platonov, and a song promoting the values of the AUE criminal subculture.

The Federal List of Extremist Organizations was updated in June to include the inter-regional movement “Vesna,” which was deemed extremist by the St. Petersburg City Court on December 6, 2022. SOVA Center considers the decision to be improper.