In addition to high inflation, sanctions that restrict their access to foreign goods, and a ruble that buys between one-third and one-half less than it did a year ago, the Russian people now have something else to look forward to: politically-backed vigilante groups “patrolling” Moscow to keep public order.
The United Russia political party, whose most prominent member is Russian President Vladimir Putin, will assemble squads of “athletic” men pulled from private security firms, military associations, and Russia’s famed Cossacks, to patrol Moscow on Friday nights with the aim of reducing petty crime, illegal parking, drug sales, and unspecified violations of public order, according to the Kommersant newspaper, a business-focused daily. The name of the program roughly translates to “Safe Capital.”
The program is expected to begin within the next few weeks, and will at first be limited to between 500 and 700 volunteers patrolling only one night a week. They will wear uniforms identifying them as members of United Russia Party, and among other things will be given the task of creating a “crime map” of Moscow.
This will not be the first private group patrolling the capital’s streets, according to the Moscow Times. Earlier this year, existing Cossack groups announced that they would begin hunting for draft dodgers in Moscow, and since the beginning of the year have been patrolling public parks in concert with the police to crack down on public intoxication and petty crime.
They will, however, be the first such organization with the explicit backing of the country’s largest political party. United Russia, and Putin, are both supported by a majority of the Russian people. That popularity has remained resilient in the face of international sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year, and then increased in the face of Russia’s continued support of armed rebellion in Eastern Ukraine.
The Kommersant story quoted an unidentified member of United Russia as saying that it was not out of the question that the new group could be used to monitor opposition rallies in Moscow.
There is a long and sordid history in Europe of political parties, often Fascist in nature, creating their own paramilitary organizations to enforce public order and suppress political dissent. Ironically, Russia only last weekend celebrated the defeat of the most infamous such movement to get its start with help from a volunteer militia: the Nazi Party.
In its early years, the Nazi Party relied on its legions of “brownshirts” to disrupt rival political rallies and intimidate opponents and groups seen as undesirable. Mussolini’s blackshirts played a related role in fascist Italy, as, to a lesser degree, did the Falangist militias in Franco’s nationalist movement in Spain.
While Putin and others in leadership positions in Russia reflexively condemn fascism in particular – one of Putin’s main talking points when criticizing the government in Ukraine is his claim that it has allied itself with fascists – it’s a term more and more frequently applied to his own regime.
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