By Steve Gutterman, Associated Press
Fighting involving ethnic Armenians and others in a Volga River town left one person dead and at least three injured this week, officials and news reports said Friday, fueling fears of a rise of ethnic violence across Russia.
The violence came about a week after clashes and rioting targeting Chechens in the northern town of Kondopoga left two people dead and underlined the potentially explosive tension between ethnic Russians and often darker-skinned people from the Caucasus and Central Asia, in some cases migrants.
One ethnic Russian man was killed and three were injured in a brawl with ethnic Armenians at a cafe in the town of Volsk early Sunday, said Alexei Yegorov, police spokesman in the Saratov region, where the town is located. Yegorov said the fight was not motivated by ethnic bias, but Ekho Moskvy radio reported that it was followed Monday by an attack on ethnic Armenian students at a technical college in the town that left one student with a knife wound.
Yegorov denied the attack took place and also denied what Ekho Moskvy reported was further ethnic tension early Friday in the town some 700 kilometers (450 miles) southeast of Moscow. He said two ethnic Armenians had fled the town following Sunday's fight and were being sought by police. Ekho Moskvy said that in addition to the three Russians injured in the cafe fight, one ethnic Armenian was also injured. It said the man who was killed was a 25-year-old former paratrooper who had served in the conflict in Chechnya.
While authorities sought to downplay the ethnic element in the violence, it has raised fears that similar rampages could spread to other Russian cities where increasingly aggressive nationalist groups bristle at people from Russia's Caucasus provinces and neighboring ex-Soviet nations. Russia has seen a marked rise in xenophobia and racist attacks in recent years and rights groups say authorities do little or nothing to combat xenophobia, often treating hate crimes as hooliganism.
Asked about the violence in Volsk, Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Buksman said his office is gathering information about such incidents around the country in an effort to determine whether there is a common cause, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
Dozens of nationalists demonstrated Thursday in Moscow, demanding tighter controls over migrants from the Caucasus living in university dormitories and the cancellation of provisions encouraging students from other ex-Soviet nations to study in Russia. About 150 were detained and some were fined for minor infractions, the Interfax news agency quoted Moscow police spokesman Yevgeny Gildyev as saying, but several dozen were allowed to hold a rally - a soft approach by the Russian authorities who usually move quickly to disperse unsanctioned demonstrations.
The pro-tolerance group SOVA said Friday that 11 young people were sentenced in the western city of Belgorod this week to prison terms ranging from 1½ to 5 years for attacking a Roma family with knives and metal rods, seriously injuring two people. SOVA said it was just the fourth time that a Russian court has ruled that defendants organized and participated in an extremist organization. Court officials in Belgorod could not immediately be reached for comment.