updated 6/22/2009 2:35:54 PM ET 2009-06-22T18:35:54

Russian ultranationalists are increasingly resorting to violence against authorities in response to a sweeping government crackdown on hate crime, an independent watchdog said Monday.

Right-wing radicals plotted explosions at police stations and military conscription offices in three Russian cities in early May, while several nationalist groups claimed responsibility for burning police cars and setting police stations ablaze earlier this year.

"The scale of neo-Nazi activities is impossible to ignore," said Galina Kozhevnikova, the director of Sova, Russia's top independent hate crime watchdog monitoring group.

She praised the government crackdown aimed at the right-wing Russian radical groups that often target racial minorities and immigrants in their grisly hate crimes.

In December, a nationalist group planted the head of a labor migrant from Tajikistan at a municipal office in central Moscow with a threat to kill officials that hire "blacks."

All that violence is a backlash, Kozhevnikova said, of authorities addressing the problem of hate crime as they should.

Increase in convictions
Their attempts to reverse a boom in hate crime in recent years led to 114 convictions over hate attacks in 2008 — an almost five-fold jump from 2006. While this year's figure of 30 convictions so far appears unlikely to rise to the match last year's total, police efforts to combat crimes of racism have irked the radicals, who are long accustomed to acting with impunity, Kozhevnikova said.

Also spurring ultranationalists to violence is the influx of illegal migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, which the radicals claim authorities are encouraging by approving higher quotas for labor migration and hiring immigrants instead of Russians.

Perhaps most alarming, Kozhevnikova said, was the way authorities undermine their own efforts to fight hate crime by adopting harsh anti-migrant rhetoric. Top police and security officials have publicly blamed jobless labor migrants for a recent spike in street crime.

It is an approach, she says, that "is soft justification of racist violence."

Migration experts and rights defenders allege that the government stirs anti-migrant hysteria to divert public attention from other social and economic problems Russia faces amid the world economic crisis. Pro-Kremlin youth groups use openly racist and nationalist messages in their government-sponsored campaigns.

Hundreds of activists of Young Guards, a youth wing of the dominant Kremlin party United Russia, rallied in Moscow in recent months to demand expulsion of labor migrants.

Kozhevnikova said that while recent conviction rates improved, the rate of hate crimes against non-Slavs remains high, with at least 33 people killed and 125 wounded this year in apparent hate crimes. Last year, 99 were killed and 437 wounded, according to Sova reports.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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