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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Russia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Russia, 11 March 2008, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia continued its slide into authoritarianism over the course of 2007, in parallel with the development of deepening xenophobia in Russian society and government policy. Although large-scale fighting in Chechnya was over for the time being, severe government violations of Chechen rights continued unabated.

SOVA, a Russian non-governmental organization (NGO) that monitors hate crimes, recorded 539 attacks on ethnic minorities, including 54 murders, over the course of 2006. A public opinion poll in December 2006 found that 54 per cent of Russians surveyed agreed with the statement 'Russia is for Russians'. Public officials have frequently stoked such chauvinistic sentiment. In November 2006, the deputy chief of the Russian migration service explained that ethnic minorities should not exceed 17–20 per cent of the population in any town, and that 'exceeding this norm creates discomfort for the indigenous population'. That same month, President Putin explained that planned restrictions on the employment of non-Russian citizens, including legal immigrants, would serve to 'ease tension on the labour market and make it more civilized'.

Putin's embrace of xenophobic sentiment has coincided with his consolidation of power at the expense of parliament and local government. Independent media and civil society organizations, both domestic and foreign, face increasing harassment. Indeed, Russian police are increasingly turning to violent disruption of peaceful, anti-government protests.

A youth movement, 'Nashi' ('Our People'), which is directly and indirectly sponsored by the Kremlin, is actively promoting Putin and an anti-European, anti-American agenda. Founded following the 2004 Orange Revolution in neighbouring Ukraine, Nashi (dubbed the 'Putinjugend' by some critics) now boasts some 10,000 members and 200,000 participants at its events. Senior members of the organization have received plum jobs in government or at Kremlin-friendly state enterprises. Some members have undergone paramilitary training specifically to learn techniques for breaking up opposition demonstrations. In October 2007, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Moscow city police to express concern about the service's recruiting of Nashi members to help 'police' forthcoming human rights and other opposition demonstrations. Although awash with Russian nationalism, Nashi states that it opposes ethnic bigotry. Some civil society organizations worry, however, that this new, enthusiastic public arm of Kremlin power could yet follow the government's lead in adopting an increasingly xenophobic agenda.

Xenophobic sentiment in Russia is often directed at Chechens, on both ethnic and religious grounds. In Chechnya itself in 2007, major fighting has ended for the time being, following the June 2006 killing of Chechen resistance leader Sadullaev. Russian police killed another senior rebel, Rustam Basayev, in August 2007 in an ongoing campaign to 'liquidate' the remaining resistance leadership. Although Moscow is eager to portray the situation in Chechnya as completely under control, the Russian and puppet Chechen governments continue to inflict severe human rights abuses on the Chechen population, including disappearances and torture.

Human Rights Watch issued a report in November 2006 based on extensive interviews in Chechnya, finding that the Moscow-backed Chechen government and federal forces were employing the widespread and systematic use of torture, with no accountability for the perpetrators. The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, echoed those findings on a visit to Chechnya in March 2007, noting that every single prisoner he had spoken with had complained of abuse. In a landmark case in July 2007, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the Russian government was responsible for the 'disappearance' and death of a young Chechen man, Khadzhi-Murat Yandiev, in 2000. It was the eleventh ECHR ruling against Russia for disappearances, deaths and disproportionate use of force stemming from the Chechen conflict; 200 similar cases were still pending. Moscow has not complied with the rulings. In June 2007, however, there was a rare conviction of four Russian soldiers in a domestic court for the killing of Chechen civilians in 2002.

The government remains sensitive to criticism about Chechnya. In August 2007 a court stiffened the suspended sentence for human rights activist Stansilav Dmitrievsky, who in 2006 had been convicted of 'inciting racial hatred' for publishing articles by Chechen resistance figures, after Dmitrievsky assisted in the organization of peaceful anti-government demonstrations. While domestic criticism is quashed, foreign criticism of Russian abuses in Chechnya continues to be muted, as other issues and interests have dominated Russia's relations with the EU and United States.

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