But since the Crimean Anschluss in 2014, the situation has changed. The number of Rusisan marches and other skinhead actions has fallen dramatically both because the authorities have taken a harsher line against them, Zakharkin and Gasymov say, and because public attitudes have in fact shifted.
On the one hand, the annexation of Crimea had the effect of splitting the Russian nationalists with some supporting the imperial action and others profoundly opposed and of causing Russians to focus their anger not on immigrant communities inside Russia but against the West in general and the US in particular in the name of the defense of “’the Russian world.’”
Leonty Byzov, a sociologist at the Academy of Sciences, says that his surveys have shown that it is precisely among the supporters of “national conservative values” that the Kremlin now has the greatest support. The nationalists and the Kremlin have the same “image of the enemy.”
If earlier, he says, they were divided, with the nationalists focusing on immigrants and the Kremlin on the outside world, now they are unified. “This variant is the most convenient for the powers that be,” Byzov says. “The US is far from Russia; it is a virtual enemy and figures only in the media.” Immigrants close by have “ceased to be ‘national enemies.’”
Ekaterina Schulmann of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service agrees. Since 2014, she says, hate crimes have fallen because the object of the hatred of nationalists is in fact something they can’t attack directly. According to her research, representatives of national minorities are very much aware of this shift.
“Indigenous residents of Russia have stopped viewing immigrants as an economic threat. “Today immigrants are considered as cheap labor. Unlike in the US and Europe, Russians do not consider that they are taking ‘our’ jobs.” The Russians have others to focus their hatred on, at least for the time being.
This argument suggests that if there is any relaxation of tension between Moscow and the West, that will lead to a revival of xenophobic attitudes among Russians and new attacks on non-Russians, perhaps yet another reason why the Putin regime continues to ramp up tensions abroad even if it could benefit in other ways from a change in course.