Analyst Aleksandr Verkhovsky on the ‘White Movement’ and the Sentencing of Nikita Tikhonov

Source: (info), 10/05/11

· Racism and xenophobia

Coincidentally, on 6 May - the day Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasis were sentenced for the killing of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova - it was also announced that yet another nationalist organization named ‘Russkie’ (the Russians) was set up. To a large extent, the nationalist movement remains a network, linked horizontally, without a clear hierarchy. In an interview with Radio Svoboda, director of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, Aleksandr Verkhovsky talks about combating right-wing extremism. The following is the expert’s opinion on the sentence handed down to Nikita Tikhonov:

- There were other options but to be honest, I thought he would not be given a life sentence.

- What do you think is the reason behind such a severe verdict?

- Firstly, from a purely legal perspective, there were all the grounds for a life sentence. Secondly, the judge considered that this verdict sentence should be a serious warning to others.

- This is not really common practice for this type of criminal case?

- In general, life sentences have been given in the past, and each time this has happened it was when there were a number of murders in the case. The best known example of a life sentence has been that of Nikolai Korolev, head of a group that blew up the Cherkizov market. There were other examples too.

- Do you think the motivation for committing the crime is convincing?

- Yes, I think it is. Among these groups there had often been calls to kill Markelov. And it is rather natural that at some point somebody turned up who put the idea into practice. After all, this is not the only murder that has been announced in advance.

- Does Russian Image [Russky Obraz], the organisation of which Nikita Tikhonov was a member, exist now?

- Of course it does. Although Tikhonov had not been a member in the last few years, he was one of the founders of the group. Obviously, now Russian Image has certain difficulties because of the testimony essentially provided by its leader Ilya Goryachev, which was found useful by the prosecution in the case against Tikhonov. This was perceived as treachery among the neo-Nazi groupings. So now Goryachev is hiding somewhere and Russian Image has not totally been able to retrieve its reputation. That’s why they also have problems.

- In the last few years your Centre has registered a decrease in the number of crimes committed by the extreme right underground movement. Does this mean that the authorities are now able to counteract this political movement more or less successfully?

- This is most likely the result of the countermeasures taken against the military wing of the far-right underground movement. Yes, it may be said that in comparison to past times the authorities are now successful in combating it. However, this tendency – the success - can mainly be seen in Moscow, Moscow Region and a few other places. In many other regions there has been no increase in tangible efforts. Therefore, I am not convinced that the decrease in the number of crimes is a sustainable trend. To be exact, last year we recorded an evident decline in the number of murders, but not in the overall number of victims. This means that the police have managed to eradicate the most dangerous groups which were usually involved in the killings, but a large number of small groups that carry out the majority of attacks have been left intact and continue to attract new fighters. The police have a great deal of work ahead of them in this respect.

- In your view, which regions at the moment pose the greatest danger?

First of all this is the problem of big cities such as Moscow and the Moscow region, Saint Petersburg and the Leningradsky region, Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg. Historically, the ideological movement which can be termed “neo-Nazi” and which in many respects emulated stylistic and political characteristics of the far-right movements in western Europe, initially developed in big cities and then spread to smaller ones. There is no clear correlation between the level of activity of such organisations and the numbers of migrants, but the correlation with a city’s size is evident.

- With law-enforcement agencies becoming more active, does the far-right movement change its tactics?

- Yes, definitely. In recent years it has become noticeable that these young people are not so willing to join organisations such as Russian Image or the Movement Against Illegal Immigration. The explanation is simple – it damages the conspiratorial nature of their networks. They prefer to exist in small horizontally linked groups, without names, without any conspicuous characteristics, and so on. Therefore, it will be more difficult for the police to deal with them than before, when neo-Nazis did not make special efforts to hide. Additionally, police clampdowns on these groups have resulted in a backlash that takes the form of attacks on the police.

- In the past there were reports that some law enforcement personnel are sympathetic to far-right ideologies. Has the recent reform, that turned Russia’s militia into police, changed the situation in any way?

- I do not believe change can be brought about so easily. After all, the militia, the police, is a large-scale institution. Statistically, the number of xenophobes in the police has to be the same as the average for the country. The question is whether law-enforcement officers allow themselves to manifest such sentiments. Occasionally, we learn about incidents where some law-enforcement officers have given preferential treatment to members of the far-right. It is difficult to say whether such cases are increasing or decreasing due to their covert nature, and for that reason it is impossible to find any statistics about them.

- Is there a chance that Nikita Tikhonov will become “an iconic martyr” for the far-right movement? Or will he be forgotten now he is in prison?

- He will definitely become a martyr. Actually, all outstanding representatives of the neo-Nazi criminal world have become, as they put it, ‘white heroes’. This happened in the case of Nikolai Korolev, mentioned earlier, as well as some others who were jailed for serious crimes. Of course in order to become a perfect ‘white hero’ one should plead guilty – yes, I committed a murder, and it was the right thing to do, – and not to deny the charge the way Tikhonov did. Let’s see what Tikhonov will say when the sentence takes effect.

- Can we say that the leaders of the far-right movement are being gradually put in prison? Are they being replaced by new charismatic personalities?

- Without a doubt, new people come to replace the convicted ones as according to our estimates, this is quite a large movement with a considerable group of potential leaders in it. The movement will not disintegrate if 20 of its members are put in prison. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complicated.

Interviewed by Andrei Shary, Radio Svoboda

SOVA Centre
Rights in Russia,
25 May 2011, 09:11