MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with ambassadors Saturday who have raised concerns about the growing problem of skinhead attacks on foreigners in the country.
Ivanov promised to take action and that all cases would be investigated, and that the ambassadors' complaints would be forwarded to law enforcement agencies, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said, according to Russian media.
"The problem of skinheads is common to both Russia and other countries, and we should fight it together," Yakovenko said, according to ITAR-Tass news agency.
Russia's small but virulent ultranationalist minority has turned increasingly violent in recent months. Last month, Russian skinheads declared a "war against foreigners" and issued threats to foreign embassies in Moscow and minority groups throughout Russia around the April 20 anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth.
President Vladimir Putin strongly criticized authorities for failing to avert the rise of extremism in Russia in his state of the nation address last month and submitted a bill to parliament that called for tougher measures against extremism. Russia's top prosecutor, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, has also ordered stronger action and blamed police for failing to stop skinheads' activities.
One of the ambassadors attending the meeting, Sven Hirdman, said the diplomats welcomed Putin's actions on the issue but still accused law enforcement agencies of taking insufficient moves against the problem.
"Legislation in Russia is imperfect for the time being," Hirdman said on Russian television.
Other ambassadors represented at the meeting were from Gabon, Cameroon, Libya, Ecuador and the Philippines, Interfax news agency reported.
However, leading Russian officials Saturday sought to downplay the skinhead problem.
Moscow's police chief, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Pronin, said there were 86 extremist offenses in the capital for the first four months of the year, compared to 81 in the same period last year. "This is a regular figure," he told Interfax.
Pronin also pointed to Moscow's peaceful May Day celebrations, "unlike in Paris and Berlin, where anti-globalizationists and other rogues were crushing everything they came across."
"I would recommend that European ambassadors pay more attention to what happens on the streets in their countries," he said.
The head of the lower house of parliament's international affairs committee, Dmitry Rogozin, also said the ambassadors' move was an attempt to switch blame from their own problems - citing the rising right in Europe as symbolized in the first round of the French presidential elections and the recent slaying of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn.
"Western ambassadors have probably become scared and are trying to prove that the problem with ultra-right groups is now facing not only western Europe but Russia as well," Rogozin said, according to Interfax.