Thanks to shocking footage of a brief but brutal attack on a Moscow police officer last weekend, Russia’s capital city is again the site of ethnic tensions between native Muscovites and migrant workers. The incident took place outside a market last Saturday, July 27, 2013, when an entourage of uniformed and plainclothes police officers arrested Magomed Magomedov, a Dagestani, for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. During the arrest, while non-uniformed officers held Magomedov against a van, a crowd gathered in protest, and at least two people—a man and a woman, later identified as relatives—started shoving and yelling. When uniformed police arrived and tried to detain the unruly man, the woman (his wife) set upon one of the plainclothes officers with her fists. Amidst the confusion, the man (her husband) broke free and tackled the officer, too. Police struggled ineptly for a few moments to break up the fight, as the husband and wife pummeled the downed cop with their fists and feet.
When the dust settled, the officer, Anton Kudriashov, sat dazed in the road, clutching at his forehead, where a giant crater now sunk into his skull. His attacker, Magomed Rasulov, fled the scene, probably after bribing [ru] some of the other officers.
Russia rarely enjoys any stretch of time without some news event involving ghastly violence between ethnic Russians and ethnic minorities. While the role of race in crime and cultural friction is nothing unique, Russian Internet users from different sides of the political spectrum have competed to explain why Kudriashov’s broken skull demonstrates their particular grievance with Moscow’s police force. Anti-government oppositionists complain that Moscow cops are capable only of using force against peaceful (Russian) protesters, arguing that corrupt protection rings [ru] offer criminal immunity to various powerful actors. Pro-government hardliners, along with several anti-government nationalists, blame liberal values (and implicitly, if not explicitly, liberal demonstrators) for an atmosphere where police don’t use their weapons, even when necessary, for fear of litigation and dismissal.
LiveJournal user Hard Ingush, an anonymous Special Forces police officer from the Russian North Caucasus, disapproved [ru] of the Moscow cops’ performance, chiding them for failing to apply overwhelming force at the first sign of resistance from Rasulov, and encouraging police everywhere to ignore an unsympathetic legal system:
Не нужно миндальничать. Да, прокуратура не нашей стороне. Да, им проще нас выставить виноватыми. Но превышение полномочий – это лучше, чем проломленный череп у коллеги.
You don’t need to pull your punches. Sure, the prosecutors aren’t on our side. Yeah, it’s easier for them just to give us the boot. But [getting convicted of] exceeding one’s authority is better than having a colleague’s skull fractured.
Following the public outcry to Kudriashov’s attack, law enforcement launched mass raids on several markets throughout Moscow on Monday, July 29, and police apprehended [ru] Rasulov within hours. Pro-Kremlin blogger Marina Yudenich welcomed [ru] the sudden show of force, but worried that fixation with North Caucasian attacks on police distract from the wider problem of the Russian opposition’s supposedly abusive attitude toward the authorities. To substantiate her claim, Yudenich posted a video [ru] from this month’s pro-Navalny rally at Manezh Square, where one young man kicks a policeman in the chest. “What do you suppose?” she asked about the man in the video, “Is he a Dagestani? A Chechen? A child of some other mountains? Or is he a regular Moscow hipster, and therefore it’s allowed?”
Maria Baronova, a vocal member of the Moscow opposition and a suspect in the May 2012 “Bolotnoe Delo” investigation, was also keen to link police performance during Kudriashov’s attack to wider trends in Moscow law enforcement. Baronova, however, took the opposite tack, pointing to the incompetence on display last weekend and how it contrasts with past police brutality against protesters as evidence that Russia’s cops are a better political weapon than instrument of law and order. One day before the mass raids, Baronova wrote an open letter [ru] to Vladimir Markin, the much-hated head of the Federal Investigative Committee’s press office, asking if Kudriashov’s case would merit the various means of police intimidation that she’s suffered as a “Bolotnoe Delo” suspect. (To some extent [ru], Baronova had to eat her own words, as police successfully hunted down Rasulov, after increasing the charges [ru] against him so that he now faces life imprisonment.)
Valery Fedotov, a politician who recently fled United Russia for Mikhail Prokhorov’s Civil Platform party, observed that Rasulov’s capture was a political victory for acting Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin big enough to cancel out the bad publicity of Alexey Navalny’s conviction. On LiveJournal, Fedotov wrote [ru]:
Если бы Магомеда Расулова, напавшего на полицейского около Матвеевского рынка в Москве, никогда не существовало, его бы надо было придумать. И больше всего в этом должны были бы быть заинтересованы в штабе Сергея Собянина.
If Magomed Rasulov, who attacked a police officer near the Matveevsky Market in Moscow, never existed, he’d have to be invented. And this would have interested Sergey Sobyanin’s campaign most of all.
For many, Rasulov’s attack on Kudriashov is just further proof [ru] that Russia’s migrant problem grows worse. If clumsy police work and criminal savagery, however, were really the chief concerns animating the “ethnic debate,” one wonders why another July 27 attack on police [ru] (aboard a train in Russia’s Far East) hasn’t provoked a similar commotion among Russia’s Internet users. That incident involved five bandits, several hostages, attempts on the lives of two cops, and the incompetence of 37 soldiers. Writing on Facebook, journalist Arkady Babchenko addressed the imbalance of attention to the two attacks on police with this morose comment [ru]:
по национальности все, конечно же, русские. Но это все-равно произошло из-за того, что к в нашу великую культурную прекрасную добрую Россию дикие обезьяны с гор спустились, правда?
Ethnically, all [five of the bandits] were Russian, of course. But it still happened because those wild monkeys [a slur denoting North Caucasians] descended from the mountains and came to our great, civilized, brilliant, good Russia, right?