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Analysis & Opinion
23.09.08 No-Nonsense Murder
By Dmitry Babich

The sentencing in Moscow of 13 underage skinheads, found guilty of two murders and more than ten racist attacks, indicates a new, tougher line on racist violence that the authorities and the courts seem to have adopted. The prosecutor demanded up to 22-year-long prison terms for the young racists, but the court felt restricted by the fact that only one of the accused, Ivan Kalinichenko, was older than 18 when the attacks took place. He was sentenced to ten years in a penal colony and could barely hide his joy, having expected tougher punishment. Ten years is the maximum an underage criminal can get in Russia.

The other criminals, all of them underage at the time of the murders, committed less than a year ago, received milder sentences, with one boy (15-year-old Linar Kosyak) getting just three years.

“I noticed that in the last few years, the courts started handing out tougher sentences,” said Semyon Charny, the author of a recently published book “Xenophobia and Intolerance in Russia.” “This started with a trial in Voronezh several years ago. Maybe, the courts and the authorities started to realize the danger that racism poses to Russia. Pressure from the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and some mass media, horrified by the recent surge in racially-motivated violence, also played a role.”

In the first six months of 2008, 80 people were killed in 171 racially-motivated attacks in Russia, a country of 144 million people. Racist violence has been growing exponentially in the last four to five years, when Russia experienced several waves of migration from Central Asia and the Caucuses, becoming second only to the United States in terms of the number of migrants residing on its territory.

Kalinichenko’s group of young racists has been conducting attacks on a routine basis for several months. The group caught the eye of the police after its members went on a beating spree on the night of October 20, 2007. On that fateful night, the gang’s members met after contacting each other via the Internet. Having seen an Asian-looking man on the street, they pushed him to the ground and beat him to death with baseball bats. The man happened to be Sergei Nikolayev, a famous chess player from Russia’s Siberian region of Yakutia. Having finished him off, the killers attacked an Uzbek street cleaner, and later a 24-year-old Armenian, who bled to death before the paramedics arrived. Since Nikolayev was a well-known man in his region, and the “fashion” of the killings left no doubt about the racial motives, the police began investigating the murders. One of the killers, Stanislav Gribach, hurt himself with his knife during the attack and asked for medical help. Doctors reported him to the police, and the murderer was identified by blood stains on his clothes.

Journalists present at the sentencing were surprised by the aggressive behavior of the defendants and their parents. Instead of repenting, one of the convicted criminals raised his arm in a Nazi salute, and the parents cursed at the journalists, suggesting to “settle the scores” outside the courtroom.

The case of Kalinichenko’s group is just the first in what appears to be a series of “skinhead trials.” In July, around the same time as Kalinichenko’s, the case of another group headed by an 18-year-old skinhead, Artur Ryno, was passed from prosecutors to the Moscow city court.

Ryno, a former student of icon painting, is accused of 21 murders and confessed to having committed them all alone. Sergei Belikov, an activist of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights and the author of a book on racist movements among Russia’s youth titled “Nazi Fighters,” suspects that Ryno is deliberately exaggerating the number of “his” murders.

“During the last few years, die-hard skinhead racists developed a perverted sense of group solidarity, which sometimes borders on self-sacrifice,” Belikov said. “Knowing that he will be jailed for life anyway, Ryno may be deliberately taking these murders upon himself in order to shield some members of his group from punishment. For police, this is a good excuse to terminate an investigation: since the killer confessed, there will be fewer questions asked.”

In Belikov’s opinion, skinhead groups in Russia, once loose gangs of rowdy uneducated youths, crystallized in the last few years, becoming more aggressive, disciplined and devoted. “Before, many skinheads just played a sort of a nasty game, where Nazi paraphernalia and racist language were considered signs of ‘coolness’,” Belikov said. “Now it is much more difficult to enter the group and to gain its members trust. Now they are involved in a serious business – murder.”
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