Reign of Fear: Secret Raids Sweep Russia After Terror Attack

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

The Kremlin has been accused of ordering sweeping raids, unlawful deportations, and baseless arrests targeting migrants on the heels of the deadly terrorist attack in Moscow last month, in what appears to be a frenzied effort to deter future attacks.

Russian authorities have relentlessly beat, attacked, and intimidated scores of migrants after blaming the concert hall massacre on four men from Tajikistan, Valentina Chupik, a human rights activist who has been working with migrants targeted in the crackdown, told The Daily Beast. The police are demanding bribes in order to let migrants go in some cases, Chupik said.

In one case, a woman from Tajikistan was detained in Zhukovsky airport and brought to the basement for intimidation purposes, Chupik said. There, the police suggested she pay them off with 30,000 rubles or risk being detained, according to Chupik, who added that they had no legal reasons to detain the woman. The woman’s son-in-law allegedly paid off the cops with 10,000 rubles, and his mother-in-law was allowed to leave the country without getting detained.

A photo of a woman next to a Russian propaganda poster

People walk past a billboard with militaristic propaganda, installed on the bus stop, April 1,2024, in Moscow, Russia.

Contributor/Getty Images

The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency had previously announced increased security measures at airports including Zhukovsky, but made no mention of police detaining migrants and demanding bribes.

Others haven’t been so lucky. Some Russian police appear to be getting a green light from superiors to instruct migrants to break the law, and then punish them for following their orders, Chupik told The Daily Beast.

In one case, local authorities urged migrants to formalize some of their documents in Odintsovo, an area that restricts foreigners’ entry, she said. But when migrants began arriving this week, police allegedly began pulling them over and detaining them indiscriminately. One migrant from Uzbekistan told her he was beaten and jailed for 15 days for not following police instructions.

“Russian authorities created rationale,” Chupik said. “They created the potentiality of deportation of migrants.”

At Least 115 Killed in ‘Bloody Terrorist Attack’ at Moscow Concert Hall

In a dormitory near Moscow, other migrants recounted stories of getting beaten by police. One migrant had his eyes clawed out, Chupik said.

Some are fleeing the country to seek safety, Chupik said, recounting multiple phone calls she had recently received from migrants who were looking for advice on whether they should leave. Tajikistan’s Ministry of Labor said it has recorded a surge of citizens leaving Russia, while others are laying low by staying home from work, according to the BBC.

“They called from work and said not to come yet,” one migrant from Tajikistan, whose name was changed for their safety, told the BBC.

Last month police in St. Petersburg conducted raids they called “Anti-Migrant” raids, according to human rights group Department One. The Daily Beast could not immediately verify the accounts.

Similar attacks are happening all across the country, including in Moscow, Samara, Yekaterinburg, and St. Petersburg, Chupik said. Court records show that since the Crocus City Hall attack, Russian authorities have recorded 2,647 cases under Article 18.8 of the Code of Administrative Offenses in Russia—which concerns immigrants and rules of entry—in Moscow alone, marking an uptick since the attack.

In just the last week and a half, Chupik says she has written nearly 600 appeals for migrants that have been unlawfully detained in Russia. Their appeals likely won’t be heard until next year.

A photo of pedestrians walking past a poster of Russian soldiers in Moscow

Pedestrians walk past a poster honoring the Russian Armed Forces in Moscow on April 2, 2024.

Natalia Kolesnikova/Getty Images

Target Practice

The raids coincide with increasing concerns about the Kremlin’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks on Russian soil after the shooting attack last month, which killed over 140 people. Russian authorities had ignored multiple warnings from British and American intelligence agencies about a possible “imminent” attack.

After ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre, the Russian government blamed the shooting on four men from Tajikistan, stoking alarm over connections between immigration and terrorism.

In an apparent effort to broadcast that the government is taking serious measures to protect citizens, Moscow police have been instructed to go door-to-door searching for overcrowded housing or other places where illegal migrants might live, according to a report from BAZA. The raids, which reportedly began on April 1, combine criminal investigation officers, district police officers, and other forces, according to BAZA. Training is still reportedly being conducted in other regions for similar raids.

Putin urged the Ministry of Interior Affairs this week to crack down more harshly against illegal migration, noting that he thinks migration is a breeding ground for extremism and criminality. He also stressed that the ministry must prioritize preserving the cultural and linguistic identity of Russia in the overhaul.

“We need to deeply, radically update our approaches to migration policy," he said at a board meeting of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, according to a Reuters translation.

According to Chupik, while the raids may look like they’re targeted at migrants, Russian authorities are also going after anyone who looks like they might be an immigrant—and more specifically, anyone who doesn’t have blue eyes and blond hair.

“They detain everybody who has no blonde hair and blue eyes,” she said. “They just stop everybody who has dark skin, black hair, black eyes.”

Russian authorities are still working to track down suspects in the Crocus City Hall attack, having announced at least five more arrests this week.

Moscow Nabs Four Suspects Accused of Bankrolling Concert Massacre

The interior ministry has also proposed a new policy of limiting foreigners’ stays in the country to just 90 days, according to a spokesperson. Currently, foreigners can stay for 90 days and return for another stay if they leave for a period of time. The draft law also suggests establishing biometric identification of foreigners entering the country.

Russia is currently working on proposals to restrict the hiring of foreign workers, according to the spokesperson.

A photo of Russian police officers walking down the street in Moscow

Other roundups abound. Police detained dozens of migrant workers working at a corporate warehouse in the Moscow region after conducting a “document inspection,” according to RIA Novosti.

Many other immigrants have noted a surge in discrimination against them, including instances in which they were refused cab rides. “Hello, if you are Tajik, cancel the order, I’m not going with you,” one message reads, according to Meduza.

The fear in Russia is spreading to other countries as well. The Kyrgyzstan Foreign Ministry recently warned residents against traveling to Russia, urging them to keep their documents proving the legality of their entry into the country if they must go.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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