Thousands of far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis marched through Moscow on Friday to call for ethnic Russians to "take back" Russia, as resentment grows over dark-complexioned Muslim migrants from Russia's Caucasus and the money the Kremlin sends to those restive regions.
Chanting "Russia for Russians" and "Migrants today, occupiers tomorrow," about 5,000 people, mostly young men, marched through a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital. Police stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the street, which was blocked to traffic.
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Violently xenophobic groups have flourished in Russia over the past two decades. They kill and beat non-Slavs and anti-racism activists, and crudely denounce the influx of immigrants from the Caucasus and from Central Asian countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.
Protesters at Friday's march (Photo: Reuters)
They have drawn moral support from nationalism that has been encouraged by Vladimir Putin's rule as part of the Kremlin's attempts to rebuild a strong Russian state.
After a clash last December between police and thousands of football fans and other extremists just outside the Kremlin walls, and an unprecedented outbreak of hate crimes, the government has taken a tougher line against the groups, but their virulent hatred is proving hard to combat.
'Stop feeding the Caucasus'
The challenge facing the Kremlin is broader, however. Many Russians share the anti-migrant sentiments and even those who would not describe themselves as racist are increasingly resentful of the hefty subsidies sent to the Caucasus, particularly to Chechnya. The money is intended to bring stability after years of war, but the region remains deeply impoverished while Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov flaunts his wealth.
Among the banners carried Friday was one reading "Stop feeding the Caucasus."
"All Russian people are on the march – football fans, skinheads, national socialists," Dmitry Demushkin, who leads a group called Russkiye, or Russians, shouted to the crowd. "We have to show what our nation is demanding."
The so-called Russian March has been held annually since 2005 on a new national holiday created to replace celebrations of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
The new holiday was usurped by far-right nationalists, whose first rally in 2005 led to the shocking sight of thousands of skinheads marching through central Moscow with their hands raised in a Nazi salute and shouting obscene racist slogans.
The following year the march was banned, but nationalists marched anyway and clashed violently with police. Since 2007, the Russian March has been relegated to areas outside of the capital's center.
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