Over the past decade, the Kremlin has organized and funded a Russian nationalist movement that it hopes will consolidate the government's power over the country following the fall of the Soviet Union. Now a force of its own, the movement began clashing with Russian Muslims following the death of a young Russian during a soccer riot Dec. 5. Preparing for more violence at a planned anti-Muslim rally in Moscow on Dec. 15, the Kremlin must prove that it can control and rein in the nationalists as well as other disruptive elements when needed.
Russian authorities are preparing for a new eruption of violence in Moscow on Dec. 15, when a planned anti-Muslim rally is supposed to take place at Kievsky Railway Station. The protest would come after more than a week of violence and tension between Russian Muslims and Russian nationalists in Moscow, and it would serve as a crucial test for Russia to prove it has the ability to rein in disruptive elements. The violence started on Dec. 5 after riots broke out following a soccer match. Soccer riots are common in Russia and tend to break up overnight. But this riot resulted in the death of a Russian youth, who reportedly was killed by Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia (with most reports citing mainly Dagestanis and possibly an Uzbek as being among the perpetrators). Those responsible were arrested, but by the time they made bail a massive group of Russian nationalists had gathered outside the police station and were protesting their release. Within just a few hours of the death of the young Russian, the Russian Internet was bombarded with Russian nationalist calls for the deaths of Russian Muslims and a rise against Russian Muslims in Moscow. This shows how the ability of Russian nationalists to quickly organize online and then take to the streets with banners has contributed significantly to the overall rise of nationalism in the country. On Dec. 6, Russian nationalists reportedly killed a Kyrgyz man in Moscow in retaliation for the young Russian's death. Then on Dec. 11, Russian nationalists held a 5,000-strong rally outside the Kremlin, shouting the slogan, "Russia for the Russians." Following the rally, a few of the nationalists reportedly took to the streets and critically injured more than 30 Russian Muslims from the Caucasus (most were stabbed and at least two were shot). As night fell in Russia on Dec. 14, reports started to surface that Russian Muslim websites — mainly those based out of the Russian Caucasus — have started to buzz with calls for the Muslims to unite and retaliate against the nationalists. There have been a few reports of Muslims traveling from the Caucasus to Moscow via bus or train. Russian authorities have already locked down all bus and train terminals, trying to prevent any Muslim extremists from entering the city. Such extremists have been able to pull off major attacks over the past year, including the Moscow subway bombing in April. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev have publicly called for peace and sharply warned both sides of the consequences of violence. According to STRATFOR sources, the orchestrator of the Kremlin's nationalist movement, Vladislav Surkov, has also been in meetings with far-right extremist groups and the Kremlin's own nationalist youth party, Nashi, warning them all to not take part in the Dec. 15 rally. By nightfall on Dec. 14, Russian authorities had already deployed riot police, militia and interior troops to the streets of Moscow in preparation of the protest and possible clashes. Ironically, it is the Kremlin that has organized, funded and ramped up the nationalist movement in Russia over the past decade, using it to consolidate the government's power over the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, this nationalist movement has become a force of its own and something the Kremlin must prove that it can still control and rein in when needed. The same holds true for the Kremlin's control of Muslim groups in the country. The government declared in 2009 that it had ended its war in the Russian Caucasus, though instability persists. The Kremlin has attempted to assure the public that, despite various attacks outside of the Caucasus by Muslim militants, it can still prevent most of the instability in the Russian Muslim Caucasus from spreading north and keep it far from the capital. As it happens, this test comes at a time when the international community is closely watching Russian security. Russia has been awarded both the winter Olympics in 2014 (in Sochi, just outside of the Muslim regions in the Caucasus) and the World Cup in 2018 (in which soccer-related unrest is expected). The last thing the Kremlin wants right now is a massive outbreak of violence related to Russian nationalists and Muslims and originating from a soccer riot.