Gleb Bryanski, Reuters, August 24, 2012
President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia must counter a serious threat from nationalists he said were taking advantage of democratic freedoms to gain influence in a country with a fragile mix of ethnic groups.
He rebuked local authorities, saying recent outbreaks of ethnic violence were “primarily the result of the inaction of law enforcement organs and irresponsibility of bureaucrats”.
“Today more and more often, under the guise of development of democracy and freedom, various ethnic nationalist groups are raising their heads. They take part in rallies, work on the Internet and among teenagers and students,” Putin said,
“In essence they all are pushing, provoking separatist tendencies inside Russia,” the president said, addressing the first meeting of his Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations. “It is important to confront their dangerous influence.”
Russia has seen several outbreaks of ethnic violence in recent years, including December 2010 riots near the Kremlin in which thousands of nationalist soccer fans attacked non-Slavic passers-by and clashed with police.
Nationalist soccer fans on Thursday attacked supporters of a team from the Muslim North Caucasus province of Dagestan in Moscow and St Petersburg, cities where tension between ethnic Russians and migrants from the Caucasus and other areas has risen.
“Corruption and prejudice among representatives of state bodies, and their inability to provide justice and defend people’s interests, are fuelling ethnic conflict and tension,” Putin said.
Putin interrupted a working vacation in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to travel to Saransk, capital of central Russia’s Mordovia region, home to the Finno-Ugric speaking Mordvin people — one of over 200 ethnic groups in Russia.
The trip was to mark what is considered the 1,000th anniversary of the region joining Russia. It was part of Putin’s effort to cast himself as a protector of Russia’s unity and ethnic diversity and use his power to discourage ethnic tension.