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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World Cup Riots Are a Wake-Up Call

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"Their relatives carried them back from a field the soldiers had occupied at the edge of the village: a man whose eye was gouged out; another whose fingers were cut off; a third whose back had been sliced in rows with the sharp edge of broken glass, then doused with alcohol and set afire."
-- The Washington Post, June 29, reporting on the mid-May "cleansing" of a Chechen village by Russian soldiers.

We long ago passed the point where Vladimir Putin qualified as a war criminal. He'll certainly make the history books as one. Just consider that General Pinochet is reviled for having either "disappeared" or killed 3,000 people over a 17-year reign -- while Putin's regime has already "disappeared" 2,000 people, in just under three years.

But now, as vandals and thugs rampage ever bolder through Moscow, we are approaching the point where the war in distant Chechnya comes home. Eight thousand lunatics have destroyed cars and stores in the heart of the capital, savagely beaten passers-by -- beaten people to death. That was a pretty blunt message. Did anyone understand it?

There is an ethnic-cleansing campaign under way in Russia. It's carried out by a mix of volunteers (contract soldiers) and miserable conscripts.

Once "in country," kontraktniki and conscripts together are, of course, killing enemy combatants and themselves taking casualties (10,000 Russian soldiers dead and 25,000 injured on Putin's watch, says the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers). But the soldiers are also running torture camps. There is no military or moral or legal justification for these camps -- they are not helping to ferret out Chechen rebel secrets.

They are not even intended to do that. They are about letting the sickest of minds in the Russian military run wild.

And then? Then, the soldiers go home. There is no one to help them sort out what they've been through, no big government retirement paycheck, probably no job prospects.

A conscript's term is for two years. So for an idea of who's on the streets of Moscow today, think about what was happening two years ago in the army. We know from extensive testimony of victims that in 2000, civilians in Chechnya were being arbitrarily detained and taken to "filtration camps" -- to "filter out" the rebels hiding among the innocents. At remand prisons in Stavropol and Pyatigorsk, at the military base in Mozdok, in the notorious Chernokozovo camp, detainees would be forced to run down human corridors of guards, who beat them with batons as they passed. Men and women were raped. Sodomized with sticks. Forced to strip naked and dance for the guards. Stacked on top of each other like kindling wood. Forced to crawl across rooms with guards on their backs, and beaten for crawling too slowly. Tear-gassed. Electro-shocked. Killed.

It continues today. The Putin regime has done nothing to stop it, and everything to continue it.

So what do you think happens when you rip tens of thousands of young boys from their homes; teach them to arbitrarily select frightened people from crowds; to put these frightened people into pits dug in the ground, or make them perform oral sex, or stomp on their testicles; and then demobilize them back home and abandon them?

I suspect the World Cup riots are just the beginning of the whirlwind Russia is about to reap.

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, is a fellow with the Nation Institute[]. Refugees Describe Atrocities by Russian Troops, Washington Post