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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report Warns of Nationalist Threat

Nationalists are growing more radical and working more closely together to carry out an increasing number of hate-based attacks, a report warned Thursday.

Extremist violence rose sharply last year, with 28 people being killed and 366 injured in a record 179 attacks, said the report by Sova, a research center that tracks extremism. Violence was less frequent but more deadly in 2004, with 46 killed and 233 injured in 119 attacks.

Two people have already died in 21 attacks so far this year, said Galina Kozhevnikova, the report's author.

"Needless to say, this is a very disturbing development," Kozhevnikova said at a news conference.

She said the most worrisome trend was increasing ideological activity and closer coordination among radical nationalist groups.

Regional nationalist organizations have held joint events over the past year in Altai, Penza, Bryansk, Vladimir and the Far East in what the Sova report called "self-styled 'test runs'" for unification.

Kozhevnikova expressed alarm about the federal registration last fall of two Moscow-based nationalist groups, the National Sovereignty Way of Rus and the Union of the Russian People, each of which unifies dozens of smaller groups.

Kozhevnikova said the Union of Russian People was "lent legitimacy" when State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazyev, Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin and Liberal Democratic Party Deputy Nikolai Kuryanovich spoke at its founding congress in November. Baburin also has joined the group, she said.

Baburin could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday. He is a former member of Rodina, the nationalist party that was prohibited from participating in Moscow City Duma elections in December for running campaign ads that likened dark-skinned migrants to garbage. Glazyev is co-chair of the party.

Rodina's removal from the ballot was "a positive development," Kozhevnikova said, in being "the first instance in the entire history of Russian electoral politics" of candidates being punished for inciting racial hatred.

But at the same time, accusations of racism or nationalist extremism "are being used more and more frequently as a method for discrediting opponents of the present authorities," including by the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, Kozhevnikova said.

Treating extremism as a political instrument rather than a vital threat to society's existence is a grave mistake, Kozhevnikova said.

Xenophobia "may seem to be under control at the moment," Kozhevnikova said, but it can become uncontrollable at any moment, "leading to very unpredictable consequences."

Believing such sentiments can be controlled "is a huge mistake, a huge danger," she said.

Observers have said the Kremlin might be stimulating the surge in nationalism so that voters will be alarmed by the fascist threat and support any Kremlin-backed presidential candidate in 2008.

Moscow Helsinki Group activist Valery Nikolsky said the figures for actual attacks were probably much higher than reported by Sova. "Many attacks are either never reported or aren't classified as motivated by hatred, even when they have a clear racist character," Nikolsky said.

Alexander Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights, said Sova's assessment of growing risks matched his own.

"These tendencies are real, we see them as well," Brod said by telephone Thursday, speaking both of the rise in attacks and increasing coordination of nationalist groups.

"Fortunately, this problem is being spoken about more publicly now: Putin has addressed it several times, saying he was ashamed of it" after the January attack on a Moscow synagogue, Brod said. "This is a very good. This report, hopefully, will get the official attention it deserves."

But Sova head Alexander Verkhovsky said at the news conference that current official responses to growing extremist violence were likely to be of little use. Anti-extremism amendments being drafted by the Duma do not clarify existing law but in fact do just the opposite, he said.

Verkhovsky said he had seen a draft of anti-extremism amendments being written by the State Duma, and they "make it even less clear precisely what crimes are extremist in character."

He also said he thought the Public Chamber would be of little use in fighting extremism, as its response to the Moscow synagogue attack had been limited to "making a very emotional statement."

The Sova report noted one potentially hopeful trend: an increase in criminal sentences for racially motivated attacks and extremist propaganda over the past year. Sova counted guilty verdicts in 16 trials in 2005, up from eight in 2004 and three in 2003. A total of 60 people were found guilty in trials last year, receiving sentences of up to 13 years in prison.

The City Prosecutor's Office said Thursday that it had completed its investigation into the January synagogue attack and turned over suspect Alexander Koptsev's case to court.

The prosecutor's office said on its web site that a related criminal case had been opened into the dissemination of extremist information on the Internet. The target of the investigation was not clear.