MOSCOW – MOSCOW (AP) — The Moscow City Court said Wednesday it had outlawed one of Russia's largest ultra-nationalist groups for the promotion of neo-Nazi ideology.
The Slavic Union, whose Russian acronym SS intentionally mimicked that used by the Nazis' infamous paramilitary, was declared "extremist," the court said in a statement.
The group's leader said it has tried to promote its far-right agenda legally, and warned that the ban will enrage and embolden Russia's most radical ultranationalists.
"They will burn cars, blow up power stations, kill officials and commit other resonant crimes," Dmitry Demushkin told The Associated Press. "All this will be the result of stupid government policies to eliminate legal nationalism."
Recently, four former Slavic Union activists were sentenced to life in prison for a 2006 explosion targeting non-Slavic traders at a Moscow market that killed 14, including two children, and wounded dozens.
The ban is part of a Kremlin crackdown on far-right groups that intensified after the January 2009 murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasiya Baburova. Two activists of another ultra-nationalist organization, Russian Image, were charged with the murder.
Earlier this month, a judge was gunned down in Moscow several months after handing down long prison sentences to members of another white supremacy group, the White Wolves, for assaulting and killing non-Slavs.
Russia's ultranationalist movement is so deeply embedded in the country's culture that militant groups have sprouted up around Russia to fight against it. Anti-racist groups regularly spearhead attacks on ultranationalists, sparking revenge assaults in an intensifying clash of ideologies.
In November, the leader of one such group, Ivan Khutorskoy — also known by the nickname Bonebreaker — was shot to death on Moscow's outskirts.
Neo-Nazi and other ultranationalist groups mushroomed in Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse. The influx of migrant workers and two wars with Chechen separatists triggered xenophobia and a surge in hate crimes.
Racially motivated attacks, often targeting people from Caucasus and Central Asia, peaked in 2008, when 110 were killed and 487 wounded, an independent watchdog, Sova, said. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights estimated that some 70,000 neo-Nazis were active in Russia — compared with a just few thousand in the early 1990s.
The Slavic Union, active since 1999, claims to have enlisted thousands of them.
The group's founder, Demushkin, was a former skinhead and martial arts expert who boasted a tattooed Nazi swastika on his shoulder. The group advocated for the expulsion of migrant workers from Russia's North Caucasus and ex-Soviet Central Asia.
In the early 2000s, Demushkin told the AP, the group organized dozens of cyber attacks on Muslim and Jewish websites — as well as those of anti-racist organizations and Chechen separatists.
Since 2005, it has helped organize ultranationalist rallies known as Russian Marches that have horrified ordinary Russians with Nazi salutes and anti-Semitic slogans.
Galina Kozhevnikova, Russia's leading expert on ultranationalists from the Sova Center, said, however, that the Slavic Union was losing the support of ultranationalists as they turned to smaller, autonomous cells that conduct independent attacks in a structure she compared to terrorist group al-Qaida.
She said Russia's far-right groups were abandoning hate killings and switching to attacks on officials and the public.
Members of a neo-Nazi group accused of planning to blow up a mosque, a McDonald's restaurant and railway stations in Moscow are currently standing trial.