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Pogroms Return to Russia | The Nation

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Pogroms Return to Russia

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Official estimates of Russia's Muslim population range between 12 million and 13 million, while Islamic organizations claim that the number is closer to 20 million. There are several powerful semi-autonomous Islamic regions, including Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, and the Putin government has taken pains to assure Russia's Muslims that its support for the US bombings in Afghanistan is not an anti-Muslim campaign.

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Matt Taibbi
Matt Taibbi is a columnist for New York Press.

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Also startling has been the sheer quantity of attacks and arrests in the past two weeks--conspicuously high even for a city as violent and crime-ridden as Moscow. A lengthy series of attacks followed the October 30 incident, in regions all over the capital.

On October 31 a Dagestani man was shot outside the McDonald's on Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya Street, across from the Radisson Slaviyanskaya hotel; witnesses said the shooters were young men with shaved heads. On November 1, on Bolshaya Naberezhnaya Street in the northwest region of the city, about 100 skinheads rioted, causing minor injuries to bystanders both Slavic and Caucasian.

Two days later, on the evening of November 3, about 150 teenagers, mostly soccer fans/skinheads, were arrested in five or six different violent incidents all across the city. According to Moscow chief of police Vladimir Pronin, minor riots broke out outside four Metro stations- Timyaryzevskaya, Petrovsko-Razumovskaya, Altufyevo and Domodedovskaya, as well as in the southern region of Orekhovo-Borisovo Yuzhnoye. The riots broke out in three separate geographical areas: north, southwest and south. "There were no serious 'excesses,' " Pronin told the Ekho Moskvy radio station, adding that he believed the incidents were organized and "definitely" connected to the October 30 pogrom.

Last but not least, there was a curious incident on October 29, the day before the Tsaritsino pogrom. According to Sergei Dorenko, an anchorman for the TV-Tsentr network who is perhaps the country's best-known and also most hated media personality, eight teenage skinheads raided his office and attacked his staff while he was taping his show during the afternoon. Dorenko told Ekho Moskvy that one of his female co-workers suffered a concussion during the attacks, which inspired the amazing spectacle of an entire production crew barricading itself inside the studio while they frantically dialed for help on their cell phones. All eight attackers managed to escape the studio without being detained, the station later reported.

Who's behind the attacks? And why are they happening now? There are several popular theories being floated in Moscow political circles, and all of them speak to a dark future both for the Putin administration and for US-Russian relations. For the most part, talk has focused around three different scenarios.

The first is that the attacks were organized and carried out entirely on the initiative of some small extremist right-wing party. The group most commonly named in this scenario is the neo-Nazi RNE, or Russian National Unity, headed by notorious arm-band-wearing fascist Alexander Barkashov. RNE armbands were allegedly seen on some of the attackers in the October 30 incident.

Other popular suspects include groups like the RNP, the Russian National Party, and Russkaya Tsel' (Russian Goal), which is headed by a skinhead named Sergei Tokmakov, who gained fame in 1998 for beating up a black US Embassy employee.

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