Xenophobia is growing in Moscow

The complicated relations between Russia and its minorities

  Articoli (Articles)
  Angela Sartori
  27 April 2024
  5 minutes, 13 seconds

On March 22 of this year, a serious terrorist attack occurred at the Crocus City Hall concert hall in Moscow. 140 people lost their lives, and the attack was claimed by ISIS-K. The Russian government accused four Tajik nationals and arrested six others as responsible for the attack. This has caused a significant backlash against the Central Asian diaspora in Russia.


The consequences for Tajik citizens – among others – have been dramatic, as xenophobic episodes and acts of violence against them have increased exponentially. A bar owned by Tajik individuals was burned down in Blagoveshchensk, Eastern Siberia, while other Tajik citizens were assaulted in a city south of Moscow. Some customers are refusing to ride taxis driven by Tajik drivers. Police checks on individuals with "Asian features" have increased, as well as airport checks for people from Central Asia: some Kyrgyz nationals were detained for two days at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow without food or water. Others have been evicted from their homes or fired from their jobs, causing them economic problems. All of this has been accompanied by episodes of verbal violence and online hate campaigns. Tajik authorities advised their citizens residing in Russia not to go out in the evening and to avoid crowded places, while Kyrgyz authorities discouraged travel to Russia.

Migration flows in Russia

A large part of the foreign workers in Russia come from Central Asian countries: the Russian Ministry of the Interior reports that they are around 10 million, but the real number is probably higher, as many are not registered. Most come from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

However, there is also a presence of citizens from other post-Soviet states, such as Georgia and Armenia. This trend began in the late 1990s when many people from these countries decided to seek better economic conditions in Russia due to the dire situations in their home countries after the collapse of the USSR; the Russian economy benefited from their entry into the labor market. However, since the early 2000s, these individuals have begun to be perceived negatively and associated with crimes and terrorist attacks, linking them to state security issues. Their presence, however, has always been essential for the Russian economy.

This duality towards migrants continues today, as the last twenty years have been characterized by continuous changes both in migration management institutions and in bureaucracy for obtaining work permits. Additionally, the public representation of migrants has often been influenced by external dynamics.

The case of Tajikistan

Tajik citizens, the main victims of the hatred stemming from the terrorist attack, make up a large part of the migrant workers in Russia. Around one million people are officially registered. Generally, they work in sectors that do not require specialized training and are often employed as taxi drivers, delivery riders, construction workers, and waiters. Many of them are seasonal workers, while others aim to acquire Russian citizenship. This massive influx into Russia is due to the poor economic conditions of the country: it is indeed one of the poorest in Central Asia, with 10 million inhabitants and with 48% of the GDP coming from remittances from citizens abroad.

The current government's authoritarian tendencies and previous internal ethnic conflicts do not help the situation. Ethnically, they differ from Russians, as well as from other post-Soviet Central Asian countries, where the majority of citizens belong to Turkish populations. The Tajik ethnicity is instead Iranian, and their language belongs to the Indo-European family of the Persian branch. Like in other Central Asian countries, Islam is the most widespread religion.

"A multiethnic society"

Although the Tajik population is ethnically different from the Russian one, it is not the only "different" presence in the Federation. In fact, excluding the diasporas formed by migration flows, Russia presents a very diverse ethnic panorama: there are groups of different cultures and religions spread throughout the country, with about 200 minorities (for example, the Tatars or the Buryats). It is no coincidence that during the 2012 presidential campaign, the then-candidate Vladimir Putin published an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, stating that Russia represents a "multiethnic society".

However, these minorities have always been a source of tension with the Kremlin. For example, the outbreak of the Second Chechen War in 1999 led to an increase in the repression of other ethnic and religious minorities in Russia and, consequently, worsened the attitude towards migrants. After the terrorist attack in March, several Russian politicians expressed their support for the introduction of stricter visas or controls. The Russian president has been more neutral on the issue, referring to Russian multiethnicity as an inheritance from the imperial and Soviet Russia. In fact, aside from ideological issues, the presence of migrants is essential for Russia's economic development in the coming years due to the labor shortage exacerbated by the demographic decline affecting Russia. Additionally, Central Asian citizens have proven essential for Russian military troops, as many of them are still enlisted among the ranks in Ukraine.

However, the situation for many Tajiks remains critical in Russia, not only due to all the discrimination they face but also because of the difficulty in protecting themselves from it: many human rights protection centers had to shut down due to the Russian invasion in Ukraine, leaving many people without protection. Numerous Tajiks have chosen to return to their own country to avoid being victims of further episodes of violence, but this only serves to make the economic condition of many Tajik citizens even more unstable.

Mondo Internazionale APS - All Rights Reserved ® 2024

Translated by Stefania Errico

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Angela Sartori

Angela Sartori si è laureata in Interdisciplinary Research and Studies on Eastern Europe (MIREES) presso l'Università di Bologna. Le tematiche che ha affrontato durante il suo corso di studi si sono concentrate principalmente sui fenomeni migratori e sulle problematiche legate alle minoranze etniche, nonché sulle relazioni lasciate dall'eredità sovietica in particolare in Ucraina, nella Federazione Russa e negli stati del Caucaso meridionale.


Federazione Russa Tagikistan Migranti discriminazioni Asia Centrale xenofobia