Among the various actors involved with the recent Moscow demonstrations (soccer fans, right-wing groups, the Kremlin, Russian power structures, ethnic minorities), who is controlling whom? Or is this just a bar-room-race-riot that escalated?
PONARS Eurasia members said: —There are multiple and growing tensions within Russian society manifested in public campaigns criticizing militia wrongdoings, corruption of officials, luxury consumerism of self-proclaimed elites, beating of journalists, and outrageous situations in the countryside/towns disclosed to the public by the Kuschevskaya massacre. Xenophobic groups seem to be not the largest but easier to be ignited; so they may be used to channel the unrest from the authorities to ethnic "others.” I believe that the immediate event that caused the Moscow riots could be seen either as the proof of state impotence ("militia let the murderer go") or as an ethnic conflict; it seems that there was a real interest to let crowd anger go in the second direction. —To me, the perfect counterpoint of the riots in central Moscow was Putin's schlock-fest sing-a-long in Petersburg. In the corridors of power all is quiet, while on the streets Russia's youth fight it out. While it is perfectly clear that the Kremlin has played a major role in "nurturing nationalist-minded youth groups" (as I describe in my book out this month!), it is a stretch to imagine that they are carefully orchestrating youth gangs with signs saying "Down with the Jewish regime," such as we have seen in central Moscow in the last few days. For what its worth, my sense it is of a closed regime that provides ample rewards for those elements of the elite willing to go along, while politics on the streets is completely isolated from power and intensely polarized. For "the kids" politics is about economic dislocation, competition, localized violence and an intense struggle that centers at least rhetorically around the Caucasus. The result is intensely polarized youth politics, with some following proto-fascist Russian nationalist lines, and others anti-fascist neo-Bolshevism or anarchism, or some bizarre admixture of the three. Violence around these issues has been a feature of life in Moscow and other Russian cities for a long time. For a Kremlin that represents order and stability both the nationalist soccer fans and the anti-Kremlin anarchists are a threat to the panorama that Putin/Medvedev try to promote. —G.R. —The state supported nationalism, but these riots were clearly out of the control of the state. The state is now really trying to rein things in, but with the xenophobia, drinking, and general level of violence in the society that will not be easy. —Several of the far-right racist groups have had close ties with Nashi and Molodaya Gvardiya, but the recent violence seems to have gone well beyond what the authorities expected. That's the risk you run when you encourage extremism–some people might take you seriously. The Putinites are now harvesting what they nurtured. —The fusion between soccer fans and right-wing nationalists is natural and not really controllable. —I think the lens of "control" is the wrong one to apply here. Rather, there are both formal vertical relationships within government structures and more important informal and often horizontal relationships within the state and between the state and societal actors. The formal vertical relationships often do not function very well unless specific commands are given that are a priority of the leadership, whether the leadership be the Kremlin, the mayor's office, the head of one of the power ministries, etc. In the case of the Moscow demonstrations, clearly, the authorities did not anticipate the scale of the event and the police did not function well on their own. At the same time, we know that informally the Kremlin has nurtured nationalist youth groups, and that there may be mutually overlapping interests or mindsets between lower-tier law enforcement personnel and right-wing groups. The police-ethnic minority relationship, on the other hand, is characterized by predation on the part of street-level cops. A combination of the above factors led to the inadequate response of Moscow law enforcement to the demonstrations, in stark contrast to their aggressive policing of opposition demonstrations. —B.D.T. PONARS Eurasia encourages open discussion on contemporary questions that are of interest and are being asked in the wider policy world. Blog and Quick Comments represent the views of individual respondents and do not imply endorsement or reflect the opinion of PONARS Eurasia, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, or The George Washington University.