Thousands of Russian ultra-nationalists staged march in Moscow on Sunday to protest the inflow of non-Russian migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

At least 10,000 young people, many dressed in black clothes and carrying flags of right-wing and neo-Nazi nationalist groups, marched through central Moscow chanting “Russians are coming”, “Russian power for Russia”, “Down with immigration”, and “Stop feeding Caucasus”. Similar marches took place in many other cities across the country.

The annual “Russian March” is traditionally held on People’s Unity Day, a national holiday instituted in 2005 to commemorate the expulsion of Polish occupiers from the Kremlin in 1612.

President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the monument to the heroes of the 1612 liberation on Moscow’s Red Square on Sunday. The ceremony was attended by the heads of the main religious confessions of Russia to emphasise the unity of different religious and ethnic groups.

Recent surveys found, however, that a majority of Russians do not know what is celebrated on November 4, and a mere 16 per cent said they would observe it. In fact more people said they would instead celebrate the October Revolution holiday marked on November 7, which now stands officially replaced by the People’s Unity Day.

The new holiday has been completely hijacked by chauvinist movements, which grow on widespread resentment among ethnic Russians of the uncontrolled inflow of migrant workers from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as Russia’s regions in the Caucasus.

Various estimates put the number of migrants in Russia at well above 10 million, or nearly 10 per cent of the country’s population, and their number is expected to double over the next decade.

The Kremlin has been quietly cultivating the nationalist sentiment in the hope of deflecting growing popular discontent away from the government. But the tactics appears to have backfired. This year, the nationalists for the first time called for Mr. Putin’s resignation, accusing him of encouraging cheap labour migration into Russia, pouring favours on Russia’s restive Muslim republics and betraying ethnic Russians.

Police detained in Moscow about two dozen young men wearing Nazi swastikas. In another incident, dozens of ultra-nationalists attacked in Moscow’s metro members of an anti-fascist group who held their own rally on the Unity Day.

More In: International | News