MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of nationalists marched through the Russian capital Sunday, chanting slogans including "Moscow is a Russian city" to express their resentment of dark-complexioned migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The march took place on Unity Day, a national holiday established in 2005 to replace commemorations of Bolshevik Revolution.
Nationalists accuse the Kremlin of lavishing privileges on migrants and minorities while ignoring ethnic Russians, and object to government subsidies to the restive, mostly Muslim Caucasus republics.
There were no immediate reports of violence at the march, which police estimated attracted about 6,000 people. But the ITAR-Tass news agency cited police as saying about 25 demonstrators wearing Nazi swastikas were arrested as they shouted slogans at a subway station in the city center.
Survey's have indicated that nearly half of Russians resent Caucasian and Central Asian immigrants and migrants, and such sentiments often overlap with the opposition movement that rose up dramatically last December in the wake of parliamentary elections tainted by allegations of widespread fraud.
One of the movement's most prominent figures, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, has called on the Kremlin to "stop feeding the Caucasus," particularly Chechnya. The region is plagued by insurgent attacks but remains mired in poverty and lawlessness.
For much of his first two presidential terms in 2000-2008, Vladimir Putin cultivated nationalist sentiment. But by the end of his second term, racist violence had skyrocketed. More than 100 immigrants were murdered yearly from 2007 to 2009, according to the Sova Center, which monitors far-right groups.
A crackdown began in 2010 when thousands of nationalist soccer hooligans clashed with riot police outside the Kremlin. Convictions for violent hate crimes have risen sharply since then while the rate of racist murders has halved, according to Sova.
The most prominent nationalist groups, including the Slavic Union and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, were banned for extremism, although their leaders have started other groups. Some nationalist leaders have denounced violence.
The global economic crisis and the Russian economy's over-reliance on oil and gas revenue means that nationalist sentiment is likely to rise, Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Associated Press. "This is the tip of the iceberg," he added. "The Kremlin is worried that nationalist sentiment will become uncontrollable."