The Russian federal government follows a politics that seeks to guarantee equality rather than granting concessions to ethnic minorities. While ethnic minorities still retain some positions of power in local governments, President Vladimir Putin has opposed special privileges for ethnic minorities and ethnic regions as part of his larger efforts to funnel power into a vertical, federal structure with federal districts governed by presidential representatives. Tax systems have been restructured, and restrictions have been put on governors to inhibit regional autonomy in favour of greater federal control.

Even though the Russian Constitution prohibits discrimination based on nationality, Roma minorities, as well as minorities from the Caucasus and Central Asia, face widespread governmental and societal discrimination. Racially motivated violence has also increased, and Muslims and Jews continue to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination. Legislation prohibiting racist propaganda and racially motivated violence is only invoked infrequently. Discrimination against ethnic minorities has been most acute after terror attacks in Russian cities. Following the February 2004 subway bombing in Moscow, the media were filled with popular demands to forbid any Caucasians from entering Moscow, while Moscow's Mayor Luzhkov promised to clamp down on illegal migrants in Moscow, and President Putin announced that Chechen separatists were to blame for the attacks.

The Russian authorities have also been accused of targeting visible minorities for racial profiling, resulting in unnecessary registration and passport checks, searches and even arbitrary arrests. Few discrimination cases are prosecuted in Russia because there is no comprehensive network of anti-discrimination laws, and lawyers and judges are not trained in litigating human rights issues within Russia. As a result, in most cases of ethnic discrimination, individuals are unable to obtain justice in Russia and their only recourse is then to the European Court of Human Rights.

In May 2005, the European Parliament adopted a resolution criticizing Russia for violating the rights of the Marii, a Finno-Ugric nation living mostly in the Marii-El Republic some 800 km east of Moscow. Citing the difficulty the Marii people face in being educated in their first language, political interference by the local administration in Marii cultural institutions and the limited representation of ethnic Mariis in administrative posts in the Republic, the resolution also lamented the lack of a free press in the Republic and mentioned the severe beating in February 2005 of Vladimir Kozlov, editor-in-chief of the international Finno-Ugric newspaper Kudo+Kodu and director of Merkanash, a national public organization of Marii in Russia.

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