Police Chief in Blind State of Denial

Six dark-skinned people have been stabbed to death in Moscow in less than a week. In each case, the victims were male and targeted by young people who did not rob them -- attacks that bear the hallmarks of skinhead violence.Yet to hear Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin assess the situation, the killings are random acts of violence. "There is no organized skinhead movement," he said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda published Monday. This is the official position of the police chief of an ethnically diverse city that has seen 16 racially motivated murders since Jan. 1 -- half of all racist killings nationwide.

Pronin's attitude is alarming. Some experts say the police are reluctant to charge suspects with racial hatred because it is more difficult to get a conviction for these cases than for other crimes. This is difficult to believe, however, since prosecutors, not police, have to prosecute in court, and more than 99 percent of trials result in convictions.

Other experts say some police officers are closet ultranationalists or so opposed to migrants that they hope the attacks will deter potential migrants and force those living here to leave. But many victims are natives of Russia's North Caucasus, and the authorities must be aware of the backlash that the attacks could cause in the turbulent region.

A third theory is that police are in denial because an admission about the existence of organized, violent xenophobia would tarnish Russia's image. This is disingenuous, given the bad reputation that the notoriously corrupt police force has already given the country.

What prompted Pronin to deny the possibility of organized skinhead attacks is unclear, but his position is unsurprising. Two years ago, he declared that there were no skinheads in Moscow. "I have never acknowledged them and do not acknowledge them," he said in February 2005.

Since this statement, Moscow has witnessed dozens of racist attacks by ultranationalists, including well-organized ones like the bombing of the Cherkizovsky market and simultaneous attacks on dark-skinned people in various parts of the city.

It is these attacks, perhaps, that forced Pronin to concede to Komsomolskaya Pravda that skinheads do exist in the city. But he still insisted that they consisted of separate, unorganized groups.

If it took two years for Pronin to acknowledge the existence of skinheads, how long will it take for him to admit that they and other violent ultranationalists might be organized and dangerous? If the police remain entrenched in denial, sooner or later Moscow will face the threat of race riots like those that erupted in Paris in 2006 or even pogroms. Pronin would then face dismissal and possible prosecution for negligence, like the police officers who allowed ethnic riots in Kondopoga in 2006.

If Pronin does not care about the plight of dark-skinned people living in Moscow, he should at least be worried about his own future.