Geopolitics

In Russia, The Worst Kind Of Racism Arrives On Campus

Foreign students in the Russian city of Orenburg are being asked to move out of their dorms because city officials think African students risk raping children in the nearby summer camp. And this is supposed to be a Russian city known for tolerance...

African immigrants in Russia (Facebook)
African immigrants in Russia (Facebook)

SAMARA – It was April 19 when Oleg Sviridov, rector at the Orenburg State Institute of Management (OSIM), received an unexpected invitation to speak with a top local official.

Eugene Arapov, head of the municipal government of Orenburg, a Russian city near the Kazakhstan border, told Sviridov that by June 1 he wanted all of the international students out of the university's dormitory, located in a city park.

"I was told that nobody needs to see reports on television about black people walking around the park," Sviridov said. "They told me that the African students might rape children." According to the rector, during the meeting the officials went even further, roundly saying that foreigners were not welcome in Orenburg. "And this region is always trying to promote itself as a tolerant and multicultural one," Sviridov said.

OSIM's dormitory, which is home to students from 23 different countries, including Zimbabwe, Congo and Chad, is located on a city-owned wooded park that extends over several hundred hectares. In addition to the dorms, a couple of children's camps are located in the park, although they are separated by fencing.

According to the rector, the students are living legally in the dorms. "They are taken to the university by bus everyday and taken back, they don't have anywhere else to live," Sviridov said. "And saying that the Africans, in particular, might rape children, is absolutely insulting."

Racist attacks against foreigners in Russia are not new, and Amnesty International has said that racism in Russia is "out of control." Attacks on foreigners and foreign students, particularly those who appear obviously non-Russian, such as Africans and East Asians, are not uncommon, although the primary targets of racist rhetoric and violence are people from the Caucasus mountains, such as Chechens, Armenians and Azeris.

Still, for officials to make blatantly anti-immigrant remarks is surprising. After the rector's refusal to move the international students, the city office sent him two official notices "recommending the removal of the foreigners from the proximity of the camps."

In addition, there have been two raids in the dormitory building housing immigrant students. In the second raid, on May 24, immigration agents arrived accompanied by unidentified individuals with guns. "Our bus was stopped by some people with automatic rifles who ordered everyone to turn off their telephone," said Al-Fakikh Cami Akhmed, a student from Yemen. "I turned mine off, but they hit me with the butt of the gun anyway. Later I was told that it was immigration officers. But my documents are in order, I don't understand why they hit me."

The rector noted that the foreign students in Russia arrive thanks to inter-governmental agreements, including many children of diplomats. "Of course, they wrote a complaint about the illegal actions of the immigration service. We have asked the prosecutor's office to investigate," Sviridov said.

Last Friday, students from OSIM protested in the street, carrying signs that said "We are against lawlessness in the immigration service," and "We came to study." The cost for a foreign student to study at a university in Russia starts at $1,800 per semester.

Federal Migration Service in Orenburg admits to carrying out an unplanned raid in the University's dormitory. "But our agents did not break in anyway, and they were unarmed," an official of the Migration Service said, stressing that they did find one student who was living in the dormitory building illegally during the raid.

The city of Orenburg refused to comment on the situation for this article, saying only that in the camps next to the dormitory, "there are 14-year-old girls, and the symbolic security guard doesn't stop anyone." The Orenburg regional prosecutor's office has not yet received an official complaint from OSIM.

The city's actions have been welcomed by radical nationalists. "This is the first time that the government is taking care of the population," said the former leader of the outlawed nationalist group Movement Against Illegal Immigration Aleksandr Belov. "There was obviously something going on, there is no smoke without fire. At the end of the day, everyone knows that a dormitory with African students is a hotspot for narco-traffickers. Without preventative actions it is difficult to fight, because while you're tracking down the criminal, he or she will have fled home."

The Ministry of Education and Sciences stands with OSIM. Their press-office explained that OSIM has 125 registered foreign students. "They have a registration and have been given a place in the dorms in complete accordance with the law," the press office said.

Rights works say that the situation in Orenburg is egregious. "This is unprecedented in Russia, that officials can say these kind of things about people with dark skin, without any kind of reason, saying they are all potential rapists," said Aleksandr Verkhovskii, head of a research center focused on xenophobia in Russia. "Unfortunately, it will be hard to hold them responsible for these kinds of remarks."

"We are always talking about multiculturalism, holding tolerance programs, but in reality very little changes," said Stefaniya Kulaeva. "This could happen in any city in Russia."

Read the original article in Russian

Photo: Afro-Russians

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Geopolitics

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

-Analysis-

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

commons.wikimedia.org

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.

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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