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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ultranationalist Held After a Debate

Authorities have arrested the leader of an ultranationalist group on suspicion of inciting hatred by shouting "Sieg heil" and "Kill the liberals" during a political debate, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Maxim Martsinkevich, 22, has been arrested and charged in connection with the incident Feb. 28 at the Bilingua cafe in central Moscow, City Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Valentina Titova said.

Titova declined to elaborate, but a law enforcement source told Interfax that Martsinkevich, leader of the group Format 18, was arrested early Tuesday morning at his apartment on Rublyovskoye Shosse in western Moscow.

Martsinkevich, who goes by the nickname Tesak, or "Hatchet," and several other young men flashed Nazi insignias and began yelling "Sieg Heil" and verbally attacking participants at the political debate titled "Where are the Democrats?" witnesses said.

"They were shouting, 'Kill the liberals,' but they almost immediately retreated," said Yulia Latynina, a political commentator and columnist for The Moscow Times who was participating in the debate. "If they wanted to kill liberals, there were plenty around."

Martsinkevich, a student at Russian State Social University, has been charged with inciting hatred and faces up to five years in prison if convicted, Titova said.

Human rights activists have accused authorities of largely turning a blind eye to hate speech by skinheads and other ultranationalists, and apparent racially motivated attacks are often classified as lesser crimes, such as hooliganism.

"I'm very pleased that the prosecutor's office is arresting fascists," said Maxim Kononenko, a political satirist and well-known blogger, who also participated in the debate.

After the February incident, Martsinkevich became a popular ultranationalist figure in the Russian blogosphere, though his Livejournal blog has since been shut down. Law enforcement officials believe Martsinkevich is one of the leaders of the city's skinhead population, Gazeta.ru reported. "Right now we are investigating all of this person's activities -- as a web site administrator and as a riot instigator," a law enforcement source told the web site.

Based on footage posted on his blog before it was abruptly shut down last month, Martsinkevich is believed to have participated in the June 22 clashes that broke out in central Moscow between ethnic Russians and people from the Caucasus and Central Asia, Gazeta.ru reported. Format 18 is considered one of the more radical ultranationalist youth groups, and in early March, Martsinkevich began publicly calling for Russia to be cleansed of foreigners and promoting national socialism, the web site said.

Human rights activists estimate that there are around 70,000 skinheads in Russia. Thirty-four people have been killed so far this year in racist crimes in Russia -- 24 of them in Moscow, the Sova center, which tracks xenophobia and hate crimes, said Wednesday, Interfax reported. The organization's deputy head, Galina Kozhevnikova, said that number was up 21 percent from the same period last year.

Staff Writer Svetlana Osadchuk contributed to this report.