In Russia, Ultra Nationalists Use Soccer Fan's Death As Rallying Cry

After a Russian soccer fan was killed following an argument with an Azerbaijani, ultra-nationalists held a rally near Red Square in Moscow that led to 100 arrests. Soccer stadiums are increasingly the bastion of xenophobic movements in Russia.

Russian riot police.
Russian riot police.

Worldcrunch *NEWSBITES

MOSCOW - Russian authorities are increasingly worried that soccer fans are feeding a rise in neo-Nazi activities. The latest sign was a large, non-sanctioned ultra-nationalist rally in central Moscow to protest the death of an 18-year-old soccer fan, Andrei Uropina, who was killed in a fight outside a Moscow nightclub last week. An Azerbaijani, Khosruvlo Nail, is wanted on suspicion in Uropina's death.

The ire of ultra-nationalists is most frequently directed towards individuals from the Caucasus region, particularly Chechens, but also Azerbaijanis and Armenians, who have become the most popular ethnic scapegoat for problems in Russian society.

Riot police were dispatched to Manezh Square, next to Moscow's Red Square, to break up the rally over the alleged murder. Wearing track suits and T-shirts proclaiming "I am Russian," the nationalists who gathered stood out from the tourists, making them easy targets for police, who confiscated flares, smokebombs, pistols and metal rods. Some 100 protesters were arrested. Word of the protests spread through social networking sites as organizers said Nail had fled Russia and accused the police of playing down the incident.

Investigators deny there was any racial motive to the murder, arguing that the alleged killer was actually standing up for his friend, a Russian, after an altercation broke out in the line for a disco. They said Nail had been put on a federal and international wanted list and that he was facing charges of murder and attempted homicide.

There have been many calls for another ‘Manezh Square," which has become the traditional place for ultra-right actions. But until the latest rally, those calls had attracted no more than a couple teenagers. Last December, more than 6,000 football fans and nationalists rioted there, demanding an investigation into the killing of a Spartak Moscow soccer fan who was shot in a dispute with several people from the Caucasus.

Maria Rozalskya, an expert on the ultra-right, said that a repeat of the events of last December was possible. "But for that to happen, there needs to be enough of a reason. The nationalists still need enough of a reason to gather en masse in the way they did last year."

Read the full article in Russian

Photo -Rob Lee
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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020


Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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