In September of 1999, less than a month after Vladmir Putin was promoted from director of the FSB to Prime Minister of Russia, a series of apartment buildings were bombed over a period of two weeks. Days after the last bombing, several residents of an apartment building in the city of Ryazan caught FSB agents installing
a bomb in their home. The local police diffused the bomb and subsequent investigations into the matter were suppressed
.The following day, 24 Russian governors demanded a transfer of all state power to Vladmir Putin, the man who until a month prior had been running the FSB. Stoking the nationalist fervor the bombings had produced, Putin immediately oversaw an invasion of Chechnya, starting the Second Chechen War.
The war resulted in Russia’s reclamation of territory which had become the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria during the First Chechen War two years earlier. It also led to Vladmir Putin becoming President.
Since the start of the war, the once near-dormant conflict in the Caucasus has continued to escalate. The invasion has led to an aggressive and expanding insurgency as well as continuous terrorist attacks on Russia by Chechen separatists.
Beneath the threat of separatist terrorism however, lies a parallel danger. Since 1999, Russia has seen a surge in activity by far right extremist groups. These groups have come to hate not only separatists but all foreigners, easily identifying with fascist ideology. While it is difficult to find definitive statistics on the subject, according to a 2002 Washington Post article, the Russian Prosecutor General’s office stated that crimes against foreign nationals increased by over 31 percent in 2002. Furthermore, in 2006 a Public Opinion Fund poll found that 52 percent of Russians would approve if many ethnic groups were expelled from the country, showing an 8% increase from 2002.
Just this week a video was released over the internet depicting the murder of two men by members of a group called the National Socialists of Rus. And now, according to a Reuters article from three days ago, Monday’s train bombing which was originally blamed on Chechen rebels is suspected to have actually been carried out by Russian nationalists.
Whether intentional or not, this increase in far-right nationalist activity appears to be a result of Putin’s campaigns in the Caucasus and overall drive toward a renewed sense of Russian nationalism. While the surge in racially motivated crime has resulted in some stricter laws, they are infrequently enforced. The government has stepped up its anti-fascist rhetoric while in practice doing its best to harness the phenomenon.
In 2005, a pro-Putin youth group called Nashi was formed with the official goals of creating a new ruling elite and opposing the threat of fascism. Since its formation however, Nashi has essentially acted as a paramilitary arm of the Putin government, declaring its critics as fascists and engaging in street battles with its opponents. Drawing frequent comparisons to Hitler Youth, the organization has reportedly recruited numerous members of the same fascist organizations it rhetorically opposes.