Beheadings posted on the Internet used to be a trademark of Chechen separatists in this part of the world. But on August 12 a video surfaced on several neo-Nazi Russian websites showing the brutal execution of two men from ethnic groups frequently targeted by Russia’s ultranationalists–one of whom had his head sawn off with what appeared to be a Russian army knife.
Both victims came from southern Muslim regions: one from Tajikistan, the other from the Russian republic of Dagestan, which borders Chechnya.
The video marks the first time that neo-Nazis–in this case, a previously unknown group calling itself the National-Socialist Party of Russia–have turned to copying the sorts of radical-Islamist beheading videos that have come out of Chechnya, Pakistan and Iraq in recent years.
The three-minute clip, accompanied by a heavy metal soundtrack, was a grisly late-summer addition to what has been a banner year for skinhead violence in Russia. According to Sova, a Moscow-based organization that tracks hate crimes in Russia, the recent executions push the number of race murders to more than forty. This is twice the number of race murders at this point last year.
To give another example of how racial violence has grown, as late as November 2001, the Moscow branch of the Anti-Defamation League estimated that there had been a total of twenty killings by skinheads in recent years.
Along with targeting dark-skinned people from Central Asia and the Caucasus, Russia’s neo-Nazis have increased their assaults on Russian antifascists and other associated progressive activists. Last month, gangs of pipe-wielding skinheads attacked a peaceful antinuclear camp protesting in Angarsk, Siberia, resulting in the death of a 21-year-old environmental activist and a number of injuries requiring hospitalization. Some suspected that local authorities may have helped organize the attack, although others claim it was just another round in local skinhead versus AntiFa (antifascist) gang fights that ended up deadlier than usual.
The big question here is whether the rise in skinhead violence is a strictly organic phenomenon or whether it is being manipulated or even encouraged from above. Russia is holding parliamentary elections in December and presidential elections next March, and with President Vladimir Putin preparing to step down, the battle among various clan elites is turning increasingly nasty. The website kavkazcenter.com isn’t alone in suggesting that the FSB (formerly the KGB) may have had a hand in the beheading video with the aim of destabilizing the political situation, which presumably would empower the siloviki, or security services, who form one of the two most powerful clan elites. Alternatively, the Kremlin could be trying to discredit extremist nationalists beyond its power, in order to draw voters closer to the Kremlin’s brand of somewhat more staid nationalism.