Clashes with police over football fan killing
Around 5,000 football fans gathered in Moscow and St. Petersburg to commemorate the death of a Spartak Moscow supporter, Egor Sviridov. The 28-year-old was shot dead in a brawl last Sunday.
What started out as a peaceful, sanctioned rally of demonstrators on Moscow's Kronshtadsky Boulevard turned violent as angry mobs broke away and moved toward the Kremlin.
The rally in St. Petersburg also descended into violence. The protesters started throwing ice and bottles at police, and a sizable number of reinforcements were immediately deployed to the area.
Over 60 people were detained in St. Petersburg, bringing the total number of those detained in Saturday's riots to more than 120. The police believe that is the number of instigators behind the violence. All of the detained have been already released.
Some 29 people have been taken to hospital, according to RIA Novosti.
Police sources said many of the demonstrators only came out to pay their respects, but things quickly got out of hand when some people decided to provoke clashes between the protesters and riot police.
“Some people have reacted very violently to the death of the Spartak fan," Moscow's chief of police, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, told RT. "I do believe that some of their dissatisfaction is understandable, but it is unacceptable when we have aggression with firecrackers that burst into flames and ordinary people suffer. We will take all the necessary measures not to let anything like that happen again, so that the authorities are not accused of ineffectiveness in handling the killing of Egor Sviridov. Police have already arrested those responsible for the murder and will arrest others. Everyone is equal before the law.”
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said he will take the investigation into Saturday’s riots under his special control.
It seems fighting was not caused by soccer fans, who were allegedly in the center of Moscow for a commemorative rally. Most of the violence was reportedly instigated by various neo-nationalist groups, such as the Movement for Illegal Immigration. Witnesses said they were shouting racist slogans and attacking people of different ethnicities.
Boris Kagarlitsky, a political analyst at the Russian Institute of Globalization Studies and Social Movements, thinks the authorities did not take the neo-nationalist problem seriously enough.
“Those who are behind the riots want to destabilize the situation, and they definitely want to change the social and political agenda in the country,” he said.
There was an increased police presence in the Metro on Saturday, because many of those who were in the center left underground. A group was detained in the Metro after attacking some innocent passengers and trying to provoke riot police.
On Saturday afternoon in the capital, a large number of mask-wearing hooligans were seen ripping out park benches, taking street signs and throwing bottles and flares at police.
Officers used bullhorns to appeal to the crowd not to get into any kind of hooliganism or vandalism. While riot police were trying to disperse the demonstrators, the organizers of the rally were seeking a meeting with police chiefs to protest what they saw as inaction after the shooting of their fellow fan, Interfax reports.
Moscow Police Chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev arrived at Manezhnaya Square at around 4:30 pm. At first he watched the scene from the edge of the square, but afterward he met with some of the fans and promised a thorough investigation into Egor Sviridov's killing.
He addressed the protesters through a bullhorn, promising that all participants in the brawl that resulted in Sviridov’s death will be detained and punished. He reminded them that the suspected shooter had been arrested, but that the others suspected of being involved in the fight had been released.
“This decision will be examined.” Kolokoltsev assured the fans, according to Itar-Tass . “I promise you that all participants will be detained and procedural judgement will be taken.”
Fans from the Fratria movement, which is made up of Spartak Moscow FC supporters, gathered in central Moscow for an unsanctioned rally last Wednesday over the death of Sviridov. Supporters of other clubs joined them and called for the authorities to conduct a quick and thorough investigation to find and punish the killers.
The Fratria group wrote an open letter to the head of the Russian Investigative Committee asking the official to take the case under his personal control.
The rally organizers and police said about 1,000 people attended the demonstration, as RT reported Wednesday. Riot police were almost immediately dispatched to the site. The officers did not detain any of the fans. They persuaded them not to obstruct traffic and to disperse.
Egor Sviridov, 28, was killed in a fight involving some ten people near 37 Kronshtadtsky Boulevard in Moscow's Golovinsky district, after being shot with a gun designed to fire rubber bullets, just after midnight on Sunday.
Sviridov, who sustained four injuries, including to his head, died on the spot. It is believed that the gun had been modified to fire live rounds. A friend of his was also wounded and is in hospital in serious condition, Interfax reported.
A 26-year-old man named Aslan Cherkesov from the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in the Northern Caucasus was charged with homicide, and two more people have been charged with instigating a fight.
Immediately after Sunday’s incident, people took to the streets. It became more that just a dispute between Spartak fans and Northern Caucasus nationals, turning into a racial fight involving Russian nationalists. Over the past week things have escalated, culminating in the events of December 11.
The actions of Spartak fans not only caused problems for the Russian police, but can actually cause problems for their soccer team.
Players had to leave the field twice in Slovakia on Wednesday night as Spartak fans invaded the pitch and threw flares in their final Champions League group match. Spartak Moscow could be disqualified from the Europa League after crowd trouble in their match against Zilina. UEFA is now waiting for a match report from the referee and delegate for the match, Kevin Blom and Bontcho Todorov. An investigation into the events will then follow.
Fred Weir, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, thinks that Russia can learn a lot from other European countries that have had similar problems with soccer and nationalist passions erupting into violence. This is especially important, he pointed out, prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“Russians seem to be pretty resilient and not that receptive to racist appeals," he said. "I think that we should not immediately leap to the conclusion that there’s racist violence running amok in Moscow."
Igor Rabiner, a Russian soccer journalist and writer, said violence at the stadiums can only be tackled by a comprehensive approach to the problem.
“In my opinion, the problem is not about Spartak, but all of Russian soccer, which doesn’t have a program to fight violence at the stadiums and outside of them,” Rabiner added. “Our soccer doesn’t have a policy for the protection of spectators. So there’s a pretty small audience coming to Russian Premier Leagues games because ordinary people, ordinary fans, are really scared of dealing with these aggressive fans – and, at the same time, with aggressive police.”