Russia: Skinhead gang accused of killing 20 in Moscow

The Guardian, UK/July 1, 2008

Nine face charges over deaths of non-Russians authorities accused of ignoring racist attacks.

Russian prosecutors yesterday charged a skinhead gang led by two teenagers with the racist murders of 20 people during a series of brutal attacks in Moscow.

Prosecutors said they had charged nine people aged between 17 and 22 with the murders. They identified the ringleaders as Artur Ryno - an art student - and Pavel Skachevsky. One of the gang members was a 22-year-old woman, who allegedly videotaped an attack on one of the victims - a student from Azerbaijan who was severely beaten but survived.

The gang targeted victims from post-Soviet republics who were working and studying in Moscow. Ryno was arrested after allegedly stabbing to death an Armenian businessman in April 2007. He told police he had killed more than 30 people, adding "the city needed to be cleaned" of foreigners who "oppressed Russians".

The case follows repeated accusations from human rights groups that authorities in Russia fail to investigate racist killings, often labelling xenophobic attacks as hooliganism. According to Sova, a rights group, there were at least 232 victims of hate crime in the first five months of 2008, including 57 murders. "It's clear that there is a kind of heroisation on the neo-Nazi scene for those who carry them out," said a spokesman, Alexander Verkhovsky. Some 600 racist attacks took place last year - but resulted in only 20 convictions, Verkhovsky said.

Russian sociologists have struggled to explain the phenomenon of rising neo-Nazism and xenophobia in a country that lost millions of its citizens fighting against Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Last month neo-Nazis daubed swastikas on a memorial in Moscow to members of the Jewish anti-fascist committee and hacked into the Holocaust Centre's website, decorating it with Nazi symbols. Jewish cemeteries are regularly desecrated.

Last year a video surfaced showing the killing by neo-Nazis of two men from the Caucuses, who were decapitated. Russian officials at first claimed the video was fake. They began an investigation only after Artur Umadanov from Dagestan recognised his missing brother Shamil, who went to Moscow to work and disappeared in the summer of 2007.

Yesterday Russian prosecutors said they had charged the teenage gang in Moscow with 20 cases of murder and 12 attempted murders. The attacks took place during 2006-07, they said.

"Lone citizens of non-Slavic appearance were chosen as victims. The assailants attempted to inflict grievous harm within the shortest possible time," said Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's investigative committee. The two leaders of the group were both under 16 years of age when they committed their crimes, he added.

According to the newspaper Vremya Novostei, Ryno was a student at Moscow's icon painting school. Police were initially sceptical of his claim that he had murdered 32 people. The investigation committee subsequently confirmed some of his testimony.

Ryno and Skachevski were arrested for killing Karen Abramian, an Armenian businessman. They fled from the scene but were spotted boarding a tram. Police chased after them and detained both teenagers, the paper said, adding that their clothes were covered with blood.

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