Russia is a promised land for conspiracy theories. When last week Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgeniya Khasis, Nazi activists suspected of having murdered leftist human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist and anarchist activist Anastasia Baburova, were arrested and taken to court hearings to decide about detention measures, the rumor mill went grinding.
The number one spinners were anti-migration bloggers, very much concerned about the human rights of their Nazi comrades. Now they scream about a “New Guantanamo”, although I do not think they had anything against the previous one. Some of the real human rights activists swallowed the hook, but the fact is that hoods on the heads of the accused are in the common best interest both for themselves and the investigation – if their faces are broadcast all over the tv, witness testimonies become unreliable.
My own feeling however is that investigators have picked up the right people, although not necessarily all of them. And I believe, that Tikhonov was not merely the executor, but also the planner of the murder. What it comes down to is an unknown man who had been spotted by anti-fascists at a previous press-conference held by Stanislav Markelov, photographed and thrown out fromthe event by anti-fascists (his photos have been distributed via various anti-fascist and mainstream media, for example here, I believe that he was a scout involved in the plot, but after being revealed was replaced by Khasis.
Despite all its faults, the Russian judicial system is probably more capable of passing a verdict than I am – but I can argue why I feel this way.
A bullet in the head in the middle of the city is not a job for a fumbling teenager's first time in action. Andrei Fazilyev and Kirill Vahruchev, who half-accidentally clubbed anti-fascist Stas Korepanov to death in Izhevsk in March of 2007 got 13 year sentences – apparently they could not even afford proper lawyers. Another half-accidental killing, that of Ilya Borodaenko in the protest camp in Angarsk of Siberia in summer of 2007 could have had some influential sponsors, judging from the fact that the Nazi gang who did the job had been previously detained the same night and then released. However cannon fodder was not that important for the influential sponsors that they would care about the detention, during which young Nazis were tortured so cruelly that at least one of them attempted to commit suicide. Nikita Tikhonov however is not from this series – he made few mistakes, and his lawyer obviously knows his job. And such lawyers are not free in Russia. Everything Tikhonov has done and said after his detention, is a series of well-calculated moves to minimize his up-coming sentence.
Different from knives, stunt guns, telescope batons and pepper gas, which are sold on almost every street, it is not easy to obtain illegal firearms in Russia. Thus, whoever assumes all the risks assosciated to purchasing illegal guns, is obviously representative of a class which does whatever it takes in order not to get its clothes and hands dirty when working – that is, the intellectual class.
Tikhonov, if anyone, is a Nazi intellectual. This is clear to anyone, who has ever opened up a copy of the “Russkiy Obraz”, a magazine which Tikhonov set up about a decade ago with his friend Ilya Goryachev, with whom he studied history in the most prestigious history faculty of Russia – that of Moscow State University. You will not find conpsiracy theories about the elders of Zion or Freemasons, Nazi BDSM uniform fetishism or other usual Nazi features in “Russkiy Obraz.” The Russian word “obraz” has many meanings - “Obraz Zhizn” means “Way of life”, but depending on the context “obraz” may mean appearance, image, conception, outline, character, type, mode, way or icon. As for the roots, first of all Obraz is the name of one organisation of Serbian nationalists. The ideological foundation of the original project was in solidarity with Serbian nationalism, which was a logical choice – it was the Balkan wars which proved that ethnic cleansings are still current in Europe today, and it was natural to propose the same for multinational Russia. Today the “Kosovo scenario” is the main scarecrow for all migration critics in Europe, in this sense Russkiy Obraz was even ahead of its time.
Goryachev and Tikhonov were maybe not the Benoit and Evola of Russia, but they managed to create a new, more credible project for the extreme right. The print run of “Russkiy Obraz” was not big, maybe 500 copies, but due to its intellectual level it had influence, and soon fans of the most important Russian White Power-band, Kolovrat (“Swastika”) also grouped around it.
As a curious historical detail, the leader of Kolovrat Denis Gerasimov played for a while in hardcore punk band “Skygrain”, which launched a total oppositional movement. Skygrain was not the first straightedge band of Russia, that was “Koleso Dharmy” founded 1993 in Volzhk, which nowadays is active in Tampere of Finland as “Wheel of Dharma
” . However, Skygrain was the first to play American-style hardcore with an anti-fascist message in Moscow, thus they started up anti-fascist subculture in Moscow (Nowadays the singer of Skygrain, Kiril“Student” is active in the group Argument 5.45
Gerasimov was drafted to the army. The story goes that he went to Chechnya, got his head smashed and returned a Nazi. Kolovrat was the headlining band in a concert organised by Goryachev in Bolotnaya square, just a few steps away from the Kremlin gates this past 4th of November. This was perhaps the first open, legal concert of the group in Russia for a decade, and a result of the careful tactics of Russkiy Obraz.
There is a continuous, fierce fight on hegemony going on in the Russian far-right, and right now Russkiy Obraz has the upper hand against many other groups. On the other hand, it does not attempt to maintain distance from Nazi-skinheads, unlike the “Movement Against Illegal Migration” DPNI which strives for a more moderate image. Russkiy Obraz has also managed to gain good contacts to many influential people, such as the deputy of ruling “United Russia”- party Maksim Mishchenko, a regular guest during “Russkiy Obraz”events. We will see, if Goryachev's hasty attempts to distance himself from hisold friend in public are enough to save status of Russkiy Obraz as the favourite Nazis of Kremlin.
According to Aleksander Potkin, former leader of DPNI, Tikhonov was working as a speechwriter
for Duma chairman and leader of the “United Russia”party, Boris Gryzlov in 2001-2003, while he was serving as minister of internal affairs for the Russian federation. This was of course quickly denied by “United Russia”, which is hardly surprising as Gryzlov is probably the third most important politician in Russia, after Putin and Medvedev. In any case Tikhonov was a professional in political media, whose contacts and skills played an important role in transforming Russkiy Obraz from a minor samizdat mag to one of the leading brands of the Russian far-right.
But why is it that Tikhonov abandoned a promising career as a Nazi intellectual, and disappeared first into the underground and now to jail for what will most likely end up in a sentence of a few decades? In order to explain this, you have to rewind back more than three years, and go back to the 16th of April 2006. On that day, 9 days before his 20th birthday, anti-fascist Alexander Ryukhin was stabbed to death on his way to a hardcore-punk concert. Within afew months three teenage Nazis were arrested – one of them had used his personal electronic metro ticked in a metro station not far from the place of the murder. After few days of “workout”, they were ready to confess – however the murderer himself, “Alexander Parnov”, had already disappeared underground. For police, this would have been good enough – half-solved crimes look bad in the statistics-obsessed Russian system. But due to the efforts of Stanislav Markelov, police was forced to put out an arrest warrant on Tikhonov as well, who apparently was the main organiser of the action.
What exactly happened on that April day? Personally I doubt that Tikhonov planned a murder, I believe that Parinov acted without his permission. If you want to kill someone, it is not very clever to take three inexperienced teenagers along, who are likely to screw up in one way or another. On the other hand, before that day the atmosphere in the Moscow Nazi scene was that of all-mightiness – in the previous years, a small circle of people had murdered dozens of migrants, and in Tikhonov's and Parinov's circles it was completely common to murder with impunity. However, even if murder was planned, I am certain that Tikhonov was forced to go underground against his own plans, and not so much due to police efforts as to the efforts of Stanislav Markelov.
But as the clever guy that he is, Tikhonov quickly reorientated, and went on to collecting guns and whatever else wouldbe necessary for an underground cell. I believe, that Stanislav and Anastasia were not the first, nor the last persons he murdered during these 3 years – a good candidate for Tikhonov's work is for example the murder of Caucasian Rasip Halulov on the 3rd of September this year. He was on his way to court where he was accused of membership in a group which beat up and stabbed Nazi activists in the Moscow metro. Halulov's group was named “Black hawks” in the media, although apparently they never called themselves that.
According to this article
Tikhonov was busted because amateurs, independently from government officials, had broken into the correspondence of Yevgeniya Khasis on Russian Facebook copy “Vkontakte
” . It was logical, that Tikhonov was caught due to someone else's mistake – he is probably too clever himself to screw up in that way. But this is the necessary flip-side of the underground way of life – as your contacts to the outer world are limitted, you have little choice in picking the people you work with. And it is hard to assassinate someone completely on your own, as an assassin should not reveal one's face, but for a scout it is almost impossible to hide without gaining undesired attention.
The Russian mainstream media has speculated a lot as to Yevgeniya's nationalitysince she has a Jewish surname. But this just shows the ignorance of journalists towards the Nazi movement, as the nationalities of Nazis should no longer be of surprise to anyone. Already mentioned murderers of Stanislav Korepanov had Tatar surnames. Maksim Martsinkevich, who ran the popular “Format 18” website where videos of cruel beatings of migrants were published, had Polish roots. Roman Ragimov, the Nazi who beat a Tadzhik man to death in Kirov in 2003 was Azerbaijani. The father of David Bashelutskov, who cruelly murdered Azerbaijani man in Volgograd and was arrested in the beginning of this year in Moscow for his membership in Nazi pagan group which planted bombs to a mosque, a McDonald's outlet and other places, was Armenian. Alexei Dzhavashishvili, recently arrested leader of the “White wolves” Nazi group, who is accused of 11 murders and one attempted murder, is Georgian. The most diligent Nazi serial killer in Russia thus far, Arthur Ryno who was recently sentenced for 20 murders and 12 attempted murders, had a Chukchi father. Yevgeniya is also not the first Jewish person in the ranks of underground Nazi groups – according to some sources Nazi sympathizer Alexander Koptsev, who wounded 9 persons with a knife in a Moscow synagogue, is Jewish. Rostislav Hoffman, suspected of being a member of the Borovikov Nazi gang from St. Peterburg which murdered at least six persons, is also Jewish. Hoffman himself, was apparently executed during an internal purge of the group. The multinationality of Nazi movement is not a merely Russian phenomenon – for example probably the most famous Swedish (former) Neo-Nazi Jackie Arklöv had a Liberian mother.
As to Yevgeniya, according to mainstream news, she was raised by an alcoholic single mother, so one can speculate about a failed relationship with the father – which is also the case with many more of the aforementioned people. But this would take us on a tangent, as Nazism is not a diagnosis – mentally ill persons do not murder in such a systematic and deliberate way, not for an idea. To claim that Nazis are mentally ill, would be an underestimation. And the term “Neo-Nazi” is a similar kind of underestimation – although present day Nazis have a continuously increasing spectra of ideas, the core of their ideology is still the same as in the 1930's. These people are by no means harmless clowns dressing up infunny outfits, they already manifold deserve to be called the same names as their predecessors.