The fragile nature of Russia’s inter-ethnic relations came to the fore once again as nationalists and football fans shut down a stretch of Leningradsky Prospekt on Tuesday evening.
About 1,000 football supporters gathered to demand justice after the death of Yegor Sviridov, 28, a fellow fan killed in a street brawl early on Monday.
Immigrants from Russia’s North Caucasus have been blamed for the killing and investigators say the fatal shots were fired by Aslan Cherkesov, RIA Novosti reported.
But the meeting also attracted Russian nationalist groups – leading to ugly scenes overtaking a peaceful vigil.
The gathering started peacefully, according to gzt.ru. Fans set up candles in a snow drift outside the prosecutor’s office near Aeroport metro station.
And Sviridov’s widow, Yana, received a collection from his friends to help her meet the funeral expenses.
She urged journalists not to characterise her late husband as an “ultra”, one of the hardline fans often implicated in organised violence.
But later things turned ugly, with sections of the crowd chanting nationalist slogans and blocking traffic on Leningradka.
There were also threats to destroy kiosks operated by “non-Russian” traders, though attempted attacks were thwarted by riot police.
The organisers of the original vigil tried to stop the situation escalating, but were met with claims that “we will take action ourselves” if the killing was not properly investigated.
Prosecutors to blame
Dmitry Demushkin, leader of the Slavyansky Soyuz nationalist group, blamed prosecutors for inciting the violence.
“All was calm until a representative of the prosecutors office came out and mumbled something unintelligible, which did not suit everyone,” he told Moskovsky Komsomolets.
“After this we decided to block the traffic and clashed with the riot police.”
While cops say there were no arrests, Demushkin claimed at least two buses full of his colleagues had been herded on to buses and detained.
Reports say Sviridov died during a fight between Spartak fans and economic migrants from the North Caucauses. Another fan, Dmitry Filatov, 25, was seriously injured in the same incident.
Vladislav, member of the Spartak fan club Fratria told gzt.ru that the fight started when the group of Caucasians took offence at the laughter of the fans, who were looking for a taxi on Krondstadtsky Bulvar.
“Our guys were talking to each other and laughing over their jokes,” Vladislav said. “The Caucasians decided they were laughing at them.”
Six people were arrested and Cherkesov, 26, apparently confessed to the shooting.
But Spartak fans fear the investigation will be a whitewash and the guilty men will be able to bribe their way out of punishment.
Spartak’s fans have encountered problems when their team played teams from the North Caucasus – particularly against their namesakes Spartak Nalchik.
Last season a banner accusing Nalchik fans of an unnatural affection for sheep was unveiled when the teams met in Moscow.
And visits to Nalchik have often been accompanied with reports of violence before and after the game.
This season Spartak’s trip to Makhachkala, in Dagestan, also prompted crowd trouble after the match with Anzhi.
It was reported that shots were fired at a supporters’ coach, and midfielder Aiden McGeady told Irish journalists the team bus was pelted with stones on the way out of town.
Meanwhile ethnic tensions boiled over last month in the Moscow Region town of Khotkovo, with nationalist groups leading a rally threatening a lynch mob after a fatal stabbing was blamed on Central Asian migrants.