Staunton, August 21 – Ever since violence clashes between Russians and Chechens broke out in the Karelian city of Kondopoga, clashes that claimed at least two Russian lives, Russian commentators and officials have lived in fear Kondopoga-like conflicts could spread elsewhere (windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2008/01/window-on-eurasia-kondopoga-like.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/10/ethnic-clash-bashkortostan-looks-like.html).
Now, at least some in the Russian capital are worried that these fears are likely to be realized as clashes among various ethnic groups and between non-Russians and Russians have increased in number in recent weeks, with one commentator even saying that today Moscow faces its own “Kondopoga” (svpressa.ru/society/article/307517/).
News from the capital region is beginning to recall “reports from the front,” Vera Zherdyeva of Svobodnaya pressa says. The sides are not fighting en masse yet, but “petty provocations are being carried out regularly.” Over the last three week, she says, there have been “a minimum of three massive fights” involving migrants and the use of guns.
The first occurred in Strogino, the second on Verkhnaya Krasnoselskaya Street, and the third in Mytishy. The police have intervened, some immigrants have been deported, and the authorities have staged what look like preemptive raids against Muslims and others (newizv.ru/news/incident/21-08-2021/60-chelovek-zaderzhali-v-mecheti-v-podmoskovie credo.press/238656/ and nazaccent.ru/content/36428-iz-rossii-deportirovali-46-uchastnikov-draki.html).
All this raises the question, “why now?” Zherdyeva says. Lev Gudkov of the Levada Center says that it is “one of the consequences of the pandemic.” Some have lost work, others are angry about restrictions, and it is easy for some to blame others for their predicament rather than seeing it as a reflection of circumstances all are suffering through.
That temptation only increases, he says, if the members of one group feel that either employers or the government and police support other groups more than they support their own. In that event, they are likely to lash out for what seem to be anything but compelling reasons and even engage in violence.
Moscow businessman Vasily Vershchak, a retired FSB colonel, agrees. He says many of the 4,000 people who work for him are on edge because of the pandemic, making it especially important that the police and the authorities more generally send a signal that they will treat everyone regardless of ethnicity or religion exactly equally.
If they don’t, he warned, more
clashes are almost inevitable. So far, however, the authorities have not taken an entirely even-handed approach, preferring to respond to such clashes by deporting migrant workers and not taking anything like equally harsh steps against those who are citizens of the Russian Federation, ethnic Russian or not.