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Feature Story November 15, 2001
Get With The Pogrom
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
Page 4 of 6
"Since the victim turned out to be not merely a poor African student, but an employee of the U.S. embassy, the police were forced to make an arrest."

Going into the trial, Tokmakov was unrepentant about his attack, declaring that "blacks are the root of all evil" and that given the chance, he would do it again. And yet, when the sentence was handed down -- three years -- he was mysteriously granted an amnesty by the Justice Ministry. By then a hero in the skinhead community, Tokmakov went on to become the head of Russian Goal, which by now is one of the biggest skinhead organizations in the city.

A group of skindheads

There is no evidence that the police have become any more vigilant over time in their prosecution of skinhead cases. The October 30 pogrom was a perfect example.

A little background on the pogrom. It involved some 300 skinheads, many of whom were armed with lead pipes and broken beer bottles. Police later said that prior to the attacks, the group met in a wooded area in the Tsaritsino region. The 300 skins first attacked street vendors at the Tsaritsino market, killing three. At Tsaritsino, the skins fought with police and dispersed only when a patrolman fired a gun into the air... From there, some 150 of the skins traveled by Metro to the Kakhovskaya region, where they attacked dark-skinned residents of the Sevastopol hotel. Many of the victims at the hotel attack were Afghans.

Witnesses noted two unusual aspects of the attacks. First, that the skins appeared to be sober. The deputy director of the hotel, Pyotr Kuznetsov, told Kommersant that he thought the kids "might have been stoned... but at any rate, I didn't see anyone drunk." This was unusual because alcohol had previously played a role in almost every other major skinhead incident.

The second oddity was the presence of what appeared to be older, adult organizers of the attacks. Security guards at the hotel told Kommersant that they had seen "a man of about 40 standing off to the side of the crowd, periodically giving instructions... The attack lasted about 10-15 minutes, then ended on command, with the attackers running in different directions."

Despite the fact that the attacks were obviously well-organized, and planned ahead of time, police initially questioned whether they were premeditated at all. In the first days after the murders, police chief Vladimir Pronin, amazingly, offered a "boys will be boys" explanation for the pogrom, blaming the attack on "emotions running high" among "skin-soccer fans" following a Spartak-Zenit soccer match that had taken place on Saturday, October 28 -- two days beforehand.

Since then, police have arrested and detained only two suspects -- 17 year-old Sergei Polyakov (who was seen kicking one of the murder victims) and 17 year-old Valery Rusakov, know to police by the nickname "The Fascist", who was captured this past weekend. After Rusakov's arrest, police spokesmen speculated that "The Fascist" might have been the key organizer of the pogrom. The mysterious 40 year-old has not been detained, nor is there any indication that the police are looking for him or for any other non-teenagers.

It would seem strange that a murder case that involved 300 or more attackers might be closed after the arrest of two suspects -- or that police could believe that 300 highly stupid teenagers would organize by themselves, without provocation or direction, such an ambitious assault. Some observers, however, think it's not strange at all -- that there is, in fact, a perfectly logical explanation for the police response in this case.

"The attacks were committed by soccer fans who were provoked," said the chairman of the national Islamic committee, Geidar Jamal. "They were urged on by provocateurs from the secret services."

Yabloko's Mitrokhin agrees that such a version of events "cannot be excluded." He believes that it is possible that the attacks -- which took place on the last day of the Davos economic conference -- were orchestrated by reactionary forces in the secret services who were intent on sabotaging Putin's relationship with the West.

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