Thursday, 22 April 2010

Fascists target high-profile victims

Last week's assassination of Moscow judge Eduard Chuvashov came just over a year after the killings of lawyer Stanislav Margelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, who were both anti-fascist activists.

The audacious gunning down of a high-profile judge in central Moscow indicates that the fascists are becoming better organised and more ambitious, experts say.

"Attacks on journalists... officials, lawyers - this move towards a new level of attacks is definitely a trend," Pavel Charny, a hate crime expert at the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, told The Moscow News.

The authorities' more aggressive prosecution of hate crimes is widely seen as one of the possible causes behind Chuvashov's murder.

"The reason this trend is developing is that skinheads who kill people in the street see that it doesn't change things," Charny said "There are frequent [court] cases now with severe prison sentences." For such fascist and racist gangs, attacking students on the street is no longer worth the risk, he said.

Attacks are still taking place, however. Just this week, on Hitler's birthday, April 20, at least two dark-skin­­ned foreigners were brutally attacked in southwest Moscow.

Meanwhile, the fascists may also have more deeply infiltrated law enforcement agencies through a myriad of personal connections.

"I don't like conspiracy theories, but there are definitely personal connections being established," said Galina Kozhevnikova, an expert at Moscow's Sova Centre, which monitors hate crime.

Over the years, establishing such personal contacts was declared as one of the primary aims of many nationalist groups.

If these connections could not be made, it was declared that law enforcement and government bodies should be infiltrated."

Chuvashov, who was gunned down in the stairwell of his Moscow apartment building on the morning of April 12, had presided in one of this year's most high-profile trials of fascists, handing down severe prison sentences to members of the White Wolves gang in February.

He also presided in the trial of members of the Ryno-Skachevsky gang, and was due to preside over a hearing involving a former organised crime task force officer accused of trying to bomb monuments by Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli.

Investigators have said their main line of enquiry involves Chuvashov's professional activities, but not necessarily the ultranationalist groups that he tried.

Unofficially, however, police sources have been quoted in the media as saying there is a link.

The White Wolves trial, which saw some gang members locked up for as much as 23 years, was a big blow to ultranationalist groups such as Russky Obraz and Russky Verdikt, Kozhevnikova said.

Both groups are involved in defending the members legally and even financially, by raising funds in their support. Websites linked to the groups had made violent threats against Chuvashov, which may in turn have inspired activists to commit the crime, Kozhevnikova said.

Meanwhile, Russky Verdikt, which calls itself a human rights organisation, has been actively defending two of its members, Yevgenia Khasis and Nikita Tikhonov, who are the main suspects in the murder of Baburova and Markelov.

Russky Verdikt director Alexei Baranovsky, in an effort to discredit the investigation and prove that his friends were innocent, went as far as to say that Markelov and Chuvashov were killed by the same gun.

The Investigative Committee has dismissed Baranovsky's theory.

While Charny is sceptical that the White Wolves had the organisational capacity to commit such a high-profile crime, Kozhevnikova said that such groups were as organised as it gets.

"It's just a bunch of small gangs, no more than 10-15 members each, organised according to the Fuhrer principle [with a main leader]," she said.

"Either they are in the same yard or apartment building, or they hang out on the same Internet forum, or they visit the same sports club, or the same druzhina [militia] that patrol the streets with police."

Financing for such groups can come from robberies or from sympathisers in small and medium-sized business, said Charny.

Last summer, police arrested Anton Mukhachev, general director of the Kudinov trading company, who was accused of funnelling millions of roubles from his enterprise into an extremist group.

Smaller contributions from supporters can reach up to 150,000 roubles a month in each specific case, Charny said.

Sometimes, groups have high-placed sympathisers who offer them limited support on a purely individual basis, she said, but ruled out that there was any systemic support of this kind of activity in law enforcement.

"If an official faces pressure, he will give away the group. He won't want to risk his career."

No acting official has ever been implicated in involvement, but xenophobia is widespread, and police officers have been prosecuted for nationalist crimes in the past, Kozhevnikova said.

In 2008, sports trainer and former junior FSB officer Sergei Klimuk was sentenced to life in prison as one of the leaders of a gang that organised a deadly blast at the Cherkizovsky market in August 2006.

Some experts say that law enforcement agencies plant double agents to try and infiltrate the fascist gangs, but the fascists sometimes turn the double agent and instead infiltrate law enforcement.

"It's the same throughout world history," said Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee who used to serve within the Federal Security Service.

"People within extremist cells are recruited [to take down the cell] and they in turn try to infiltrate the security structure. Sometimes, the situation can get out of control."

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