Moscow police will enlist the help of a volunteer militia to sweep the streets for illegal migrants, police chief Anatoly Yakunin said today, following the worst race riots in the city in years.
The riots were sparked when an Azerbaijani man stabbed to death ethnic Russian Yegor Shcherbakov in the Biryulyovo district of Moscow last Thursday as he was out walking with his girlfriend.
Russian authorities plan to hold operation ‘Signal’ every Friday, raiding apartment buildings and workplaces known to be frequented by immigrants across the city, particularly those from Azerbaijan and the Caucasus region.
The enormous nature of the task will require “the entire apparatus of the Central Office of Main Control, the office of Internal Control of Administrative Districts, private security companies and voluntary civil guards” Mr Yakunin said.
Azerbaijani nationalist group the “Karabakh Liberation Organisation’ have threatened retaliation against ethnic Russians living in Azerbaijan.
According to Azerbaijani news portal “Haqqin.az”, the group wrote to the Russian Embassy in Baku stating that “If attacks on Azerbaijanis” in Russia do not end, then “adequate measures” will be taken against Russians living in Azerbaijan.
Their statement followed the release of footage which appears to show handcuffed Azerbaijani citizen Orkhan Zeynalov being assaulted by police officers before being transferred to pre-trial detention face down in a police helicopter with a bag over his head.
Police appear to punch, kick and strike a bruised and bloody Mr Zeynalov with police batons in full view of the camera crew, who are allowed to accompany the suspect as he travels under an officer’s feet lying in the bottom of a police van, then in a police helicopter with a bag over his head.
Zeynalov was arrested on Tuesday, accused of Yegor Shcherbakov’s murder. In the video police appear to try to force Mr Zeynalov into confessing to the camera as he lies in the grass. At a Moscow court hearing on Thursday he told a judge police had arrested the wrong man. Police were justified their actions as he had resisted arrest.
Yegor Shcherbakov’s murder caused mass protests against non-Slavic immigrants in Biryulyovo district, which quickly turned violent. Participants broke into a local vegetable warehouse where many immigrants work, trashing produce and brawling with police on the streets outside.
Protesters objected to immigrants due to the amount of crime they commit in the area and are increasingly resentful because they undercut the pay of Russian employees by working illegally.
Rioting continued last Sunday, with angry protesters attempting to set fire to a shopping mall and smashing windows. Some 380 people were detained in relation to the disturbances as police battled to restore order in the district.
Russian authorities seem eager to placate nationalist groups, arresting over a thousand illegal immigrants in night-time raids on Monday evening, and taking the unusual step of allowing national TV to film and broadcast the arrest of Orkhan Zeynalov.
However, ethnic tensions continue to build in Biryulyovo, with Reuters reporting Wednesday that police had found the body of an ethnic Uzbek there, apparently killed in a race-related attack.
Moscow authorities have consequently banned a nationalist rally planned for October 19 on the other side of Moscow, telling organisers that under the circumstances police would not be able to guarantee the safety of participants. The rally’s organizer, Dmitry Dyomushkin, is the former head of the ‘Slavic Union’ far-right group, banned in 2010 as an extremist organization.
The Azerbaijani government has yet to comment on Zeynalov’s arrest.