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On July 11, the Moscow City Court handed down 12 sentences for the murder rampage that left 27 non-Slavs dead. Five of those sentences were life sentences and the other seven were sentenced between 10 and 25 years in jail. The sentenced were members of Russia’s most vicious neo-Nazi gang, belonging to the National Socialist Society North whose logo is a red-and-black stylized swastika.
The gang members, mostly men in their 20s, were convicted of killing migrants from Russia’s Caucasus region and from Central Asia, as well as Africans and South East Asians, in vicious attacks coordinated by the gang’s leader, Lev Molotkov.
With knives, metal rods and sharpened screwdrivers, the gang committed all their brutal attacks coordinated by Molotkov, who is estimated to have hundreds of supporters nationwide.
During the trial, the defendants mocked the judge, shouting curse words and performing the Nazi salute. One of the defendants even said he killed three people in 24 hours, according to court papers. They cracked jokes and demonstratively ignored the judge when he spoke to them; some wore white masks.
Before the final sentence Molotkov pleaded not guilty, and the others mostly admitted partial guilt for the killings, which took place in 2007 and 2008, saying they had been coerced into committing the crimes.
However, for the families of the victims these excuses are obviously not enough, “irrespective of whether they were fooled or mentally lost, they are evil killers who will never get back to a normal life,” said Alexander Kolodkin, an ethnic Russian whose son was stabbed to death in February 2008. “They should be isolated.”
Anti-racism campaigners have welcomed the sentences as part of a recent government crackdown on ultranationalist groups that follows years of leniency.
The number of extremist crimes in Russia is “rising rapidly”
Neo-nationalist groups have been gaining ground and boosting their membership numbers, shocking authorities and many Russians. Speaking to an international conference in Moscow the head of the Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs, Major General Sergey Girko stated that there are more than 150 neo-Nazi groups in his country and that both their number and the number of extremist crimes is rising rapidly. Girko also remarked that every year the number of crimes of an extremist nature in Russia has grown.
“If in 2007, there were 356 such crimes registered, a 35 percent increase over the year before, then in 2008, this figure increased to 460 (up 29 percent) and in 2009 to 548 (up 19 percent),” Girko said.
According to Reuters in April 2011, “Russia banned a neo-nationalist group linked to a 7,000-strong demonstration near Red Square that erupted in the worst racial violence the country has seen since the fall of the Soviet Union.”
According to SOVA Center for Information and Analysis´s website, a Moscow-based Russian nonprofit organization, Russia’s top independent hate crime watchdog monitoring group, at least six people became victims of racist and neo-Nazi attacks in June 2011, with three of those dying due to their injuries. These figures bring the year-to-date totals to 14 deaths, 58 people injured and an additional five people receiving death threats across 15 regions of Russia.
Moreover, with high unemployment and an Islamist insurgency raging across the North Caucasus, which includes Chechnya, many migrants from the region travel to Moscow in search of jobs. According to city officials, just in Moscow there are people of 168 different ethnicities.
Regarding this situation, SOVA’s head, Aleksandre Verkhovsky, has recently said on the website t hat one of the reasons why these kind of murders could have been committed is because many Russians blame immigrants for stealing jobs and committing crimes. Migrant workers argue that they take on menial jobs that Russians are unwilling to perform and complain of rampant discrimination.
According to Semyon Charny of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, there are an estimated 70,000 skinheads in Russia. Promoting an overtly Nazi ideology, they espouse hatred for those who are not ethnic Russians.
Last year racial violence was sparked when another Russian neo-nationalist group killed a Spartak Moscow soccer fan during a fight between a group of ethnic Russians and migrants from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus.
Since then, the violence and the frequency of racist incidents involving Russian soccer fans have raised concerns about security during the 2018 World Cup, which Russia will host.