"Obviously, the fact that the pogroms took place on the last day of the Davos conference suggests that there was an attempt to make some kind of statement to the international community," he said. "And Putin is about to travel to the U.S. to meet with Bush in a critical and highly-publicized meeting. It would seem significant that the attacks would be intensified exactly at this moment."
At least one spokesman for the police agreed that the attacks were timed to coincide with the Davos conference. Sergei Shevtsov of the GUVD press office said in the days after the attack that the in the course of their investigation, police had learned that the original target of the skins were anti-globalist protesters at the conference.
"They only settled on Tsaritsino when they found out there were no protesters outside the Marriott," he said.
Earlier this week, I went to the Sevastopol hotel to have a look at the scene of the crime. The hotel is an enormous complex of bleak gray buildings, some six korpuses in all, all of which are set off from the street by tall iron fences. During the day, the entrance to korpus 4 -- the site of the attacks -- is scarcely visible, hidden behind a teeming mass of hotel residents, almost all of them dark-skinned Caucasians. The hotel is home to many migrant traders from the Islamic regions down south, and the entrance to the main residential complex resembles a kind of Silk Road fair, with cars coming in and out to load and unload crates of jeans, shoes, umbrellas, and other stuff.
Nearly lost in the crowd are the hotel security guards. You can pick them out by sight because they are the only Russians in the place. As I entered the lobby, I heard one of them lecturing, in a clearly exasperated voice, one fo the guests:
"Listen," he said. "You've got it all wrong. We're here to protect you..."
Little Russian is spoken between the guests, and even the signs on the doors are in Arabic and Farsi. It took me three tries to find a guest in the lobby who spoke Russian. His name was Ruslan and he was an Uzbek, about twenty-five years old. I asked him where the attack had happened, what entrance the skins had come in from, whether he had been there (he had not), and so on. He had one point he wanted to make clear.
"They were let in," he said. "The guards didn't even try to stop them. Not that they could have."
I didn't get much else out of the trip -- I was forced off the property by security within about ten minutes of my arrival. The hotel administrator explained to me that this was "out of his hands", that the hotel had been prohibited by the police from speaking with reporters.
"We were told not to let foreign reporters come and bother the guests," he said.
"Only foreign reporters?" I asked.
"That is," he said, "foreign reporters, and Russian reporters. Both."
Whatever. I don't necessarily subscribe to the theory that the police or the FSB is behind the skinhead attacks, or that, for instance, the security guards at the Sevastopol hotel would roll out the red carpet for a pipe-wielding mob. But you can understand how and why they might step aside for the skins on a night like October 30: all it takes is one look at the hotel's monolingual security guards grinding their teeth with impatience as they stand there in the lobby -- surrounded on all sides by dark-skinned umbrella salesmen shouting at each other all day long in their alien languages -- and you can imagine quite clearly their reaction to the invading horde.
Moscow isn't the only city in Russia with a skinhead problem. The Helsinki group estimates that there are some 20,000 skinheads nationwide, with some cities, in particular Volgograd, boasting of unusually large skin populations. That city has been the site of a number of serious skinhead attacks in recent years, the most recent being the Aug. 16 murder of two gypsies by a gang of six skins.
There have also been cases around the country of skinheads being used by various commercial structures to rough up competitors and other undesirables. One good example was an incident in Udmurtia on Aug. 17 in which a gang of thirty skinheads attacked a group of environmentalists who had gathered to protest the construction of a rocket fuel refinery. Police said after the incident that there was some evidence that the attacks had been "ordered" by contractors on the refinery project.