Racist tensions are growing in Russia, particularly in large urban centers like Moscow that host huge communities of darker-skinned and often Muslim "migrants" from Russia's impoverished and strife-torn north Caucasus region, as well as millions of "guest workers" – who often live in legal limbo – from the now independent republics of former Soviet Central Asia.
Though ethnic Russians make up about 80 percent of Russia's 140 million people, many minorities are concentrated in 20 Soviet-era ethnic republics, where they enjoy privileged status for their own languages and cultures. Moscow has fought two brutal wars since the Soviet collapse to keep Chechnya, a Caucasus republic, from seceding. Putin has warned that separatist passions could strike in many places besides the North Caucasus, including Siberia and the Volga region.
Just over a year ago, thousands of ethnic Russian ultranationalists rampaged in downtown Moscow to protest what they called police inaction over the killing of one of their own in a gang fight with youths from the Caucasus.
"There is a serious threat of extremism," as Russia's ultranationalists become increasingly politicized, says Alla Gerber, president of the Holocaust Foundation in Moscow. "More and more people have adopted the ideology of 'Russia for the Russians,' which means that everyone else is an 'alien'."