Ethnic tensions could destroy Russia, warns Putin

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    Moscow, (IANS/RIA Novosti) Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned rising nationalism posed a threat to the country’s future and called for a clampdown on “disrespectful” internal migrants.

    “Attempts to advocate the idea of the creation of a mono-ethnic, national Russian state contradict our millennium-old history,” Putin wrote in an article on his official website.

    “This is the shortest path to both the destruction of the Russian people and Russia’s sovereignty,” he wrote.

    Putin proposed the creation of a new state agency on national development and inter-ethnic accord.

    Russia has seen a dramatic rise in ultra-nationalist sentiments since the break-up of the Soviet Union, with far-right movements prominent at recent mass protests against alleged vote fraud in favour of Putin’s ruling United Russia party.

    Around 5,000 nationalists rioted near Red Square in December 2010 after the murder of a Spartak Moscow football fan by a youth from the volatile Muslim North Caucasus region.

    Putin promised a crackdown on “aggressive, provocative and disrespectful” internal migrants who fail to respect “the customs of the Russian people”.

    “This behaviour should be met with a legal, but harsh response,” he said.

    Tensions between ethnic Russians and natives of North Caucasus republics frequently occur due to cultural and religious differences, despite behaviour guidelines drawn up for new arrivals in big cities from republics such as Chechnya and Dagestan.

    Police blame North Caucasus youths for outbreaks of violence.

    Putin has faced frequent criticism over the government’s generous financing of the economically depressed and violence-ridden North Caucasus region.

    Opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, one of the organisers of the recent vote fraud protests, has lent his backing to the grassroots, nationalist “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” campaign.

    But Putin dismissed such campaigns as a danger to Russia’s national unity.

    “When they start shouting ‘Stop Feeding the Caucasus’ a call will inevitably follow to stop Feeding Siberia, Far East, the Urals,” he wrote.

    “This was exactly the recipe followed by those who instigated the break-up of the Soviet Union,” he added in the article.

    Putin warned that the creation of nationalist parties in Russia was “a direct path to separatism”.

    But the prime minister recognised the concerns of many ordinary people over “mass immigration” from impoverished former Soviet republics such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and vowed to “toughen” laws on labour immigrants, making a violation of migration — including internal migration — procedures a criminal offence.

    He said that from next year, immigrants would have to pass exams testing their knowledge of the Russian language as well as the country’s history and literature.