Protests in Russia Put Spotlight on Wartime Ethnic Grievances


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The trial of a minority rights activist in Russia this week sparked one of the biggest outbreaks of social unrest in the country since the start of the war in Ukraine, highlighting the strain the conflict has imposed on Russia’s complex ethnic relations.

Hundreds of protesters clashed with the police on Wednesday in the provincial town of Baymak, near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, after a local court sentenced an advocate for the local Bashkir ethnic minority to four years in prison. He was convicted of inciting ethnic discord and discrediting the Russian army.

A Russian legal aid group, OVD-Info, said that at least 20 people had been detained and another 20 injured in the protest. A video published on social media, and verified by The New York Times, showed protesters throwing snowballs at a wall of police officers in riot gear; other videos showed the police leading some protesters away and protesters exposed to what appeared to be tear gas.

Tensions in Baymak, in the Republic of Bashkortostan region of Russia, flared on Monday after residents gathered outside the courthouse to protest over the trial of the activist, Fail Alsynov. Mr. Alsynov had called for greater cultural and economic autonomy for the predominantly Muslim Bashkir people of Russia’s Ural Mountains. Mr. Alsynov has also criticized Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the 2022 mobilization, which he said had disproportionally affected ethnic minorities like the Bashkirs.

“The smartest, strongest Bashkir men are being put under fire,” Mr. Alsynov said on social media last year, a post that contributed to his arrest. “This is not our war. Our land has not come under attack.”

The trial of Mr. Alsynov has shown how long-running ethnic grievances in the Russian provinces can swiftly assume antiwar undertones, in a potentially explosive mix that the government has demonstrated in Baymak that it will act decisively to prevent.

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Protests in Russia Put Spotlight on Wartime Ethnic Grievances

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