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Geopolitics

What's Behind Putin's New Push To Tame Far-Right Racism?

Recent race riots and far-right pre-election rhetoric have brought the issue of xenophobia back into the national spotlight in Russia. Prime Minister Putin is proposing a new government body to help keep ethnic tensions at bay, though some activists are s

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

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MOSCOW -- Five months to go before the next legislative elections, the Kremlin is turning its attention to the issue of inter-ethnic racism. In recent weeks violent brawls between Russians and ethnic Caucasians near St. Petersburg and the Urals have placed the perennial problem back in the headlines.

In late July, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called for the establishment of an "inter-ministerial structure in charge of ethnic associations." The proposal follows recent talks between Putin and religious and cultural associations. The prime minister invited the organizations to contribute to his Russian Popular Front, a new political machine Putin created for the upcoming elections.

At the same time, the Moscow municipal government is launching a $4 million city-wide public awareness campaign under the slogan "Don't Support Racism."

Just campaign propaganda?

Many analysts see Prime Minister Putin's maneuverings as pure politics – part of a pre-election strategy to widen the Russian Popular Front's appeal. "It's a political strategy. Vladimir Putin's initiative is useless," says Natalia Ioudina, a representative from SOVA, a Russian NGO analyzing xenophobia in Russia. "Such organizations already exist. Why create the same thing all over again?"

The rise of xenophobia and the recent race riots are of serious concern to the Kremlin, which does not want to see an independent far-right political force emerge at such a crucial period. Analysts and government authorities note that xenophobia has wide public appeal in Russia. Polls suggest that as much as 40% of the population indentifies itself as racist. One in 20 expresses a willingness to participate in race riots.

To co-opt nationalist voters, the Kremlin relies on the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), a party with strong nationalist leanings led by Vladimir Jirinovski, a controversial figure. The party supports all the legislation the Kremlin presents to the parliament.

"The nationalist rhetoric comes out inevitably at every election," says Ioudina. "But I think that as in the past, the government will be able to keep the far-right in check."

While pro-government media makes an effort to ease interethnic tensions, many racist websites operate freely and spread propaganda among Russian people. They all use one slogan in particular: "Russia should stop supporting the Caucasus."

Read the full article in French by Emmanuel Grynszpan

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Searching For Marianna, A Pregnant Doctor From Mariupol Held Captive By The Russians

We’ve heard about the plight of the soldiers-turned-prisoners from Mariupol. Here are some traces of the disturbing fate of a young female doctor who’s been taken away.

A paper dove reads "Mariupol" at a shelter for displaced children in Uzhhorod, western Ukraine.

Paweł Smoleński

"Wait for me, because I will return…"

Marianna Mamonova wrote these words to her family, among the text messages and short phone calls that are the only remaining fragments used to piece together her recent past. We also have a photo of her, posted on Russian websites, where she looks into the lens, gaunt and exhausted, signed with a number like a concentration camp prisoner.

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Until the Russian-Ukrainian war, Mamonova’s biography was available to anyone who wanted to know. She was born in 1991, studied at the Ternopil Medical University, and later at the Kyiv Military Academy. After completing her studies, she was sent to work in the coastal city of Berdiansk. Her mother says that this is where her daughter's dream came true: She’d always wanted to be a military doctor, and worked in Berdiansk for three years, receiving the rank of officer in the Ukrainian army.

Beginning in 2014, she’d worked stints as a front-line doctor in the Donbas region, and when Russia invaded Ukraine in February she went to war again. This time in Mariupol.

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