Russian authorities have fired a top official for saying that the country's immigration policy was tailored to promote the "survival of the white race". Konstantin Poltoranin, the chief spokesman for Russia's Federal Migration Service, also said in televised comments that the "mixing of bloods" has to be managed carefully.
Xenophobia and racism flourish in Russia, and public officials often make statements that would land them in hot water elsewhere in Europe. But Mr Poltoranin crossed the line.
His interview with the BBC was aired on Wednesday and by the evening he had been fired. He was not caught out with a difficult question, but chose to launch into his thesis about the "white race" when asked if there was anything he would like to add at the end of the interview.
Mr Poltoranin was speaking about the poor conditions at a centre for asylum-seekers in Russia, where refugees from Ivory Coast and Ghana spoke of being subjected to racist attacks from local residents and the centre's administration.
Mr Poltoranin appeared to hint that Russia was deliberately unwelcoming to Africans and other asylum-seekers to avoid an influx of migrants as seen in western Europe. He said he did not understand the immigration policy of western European countries. "We want to make sure the mixing of blood happens in the right way here, and not the way it has happened in western Europe where the results have not been good," Mr Poltoranin said.
He added that Russia needed Slavic immigrants to counter its declining population. "What is at stake here is the survival of the white race, and we feel this in Russia," he said.
Moscow has several million migrants who come from the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, which is inside Russia, and from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Nearly one-fifth of Russia's 143 million people are Muslims, and the country prides itself on being home to over 100 nationalities.
But in Moscow and other big cities, racial tensions often cause violence. In December, ethnic Russian football fans rampaged in Moscow and attacked anyone with non-Slavic features.
Workers of Asian appearance from countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan complain of frequent racist abuse and attacks. Russia has only a small community of black Africans, but they also face racist attacks. Sova, a rights group that documents racial violence, said that at least 37 people were killed in hate crimes last year in Russia.
"Such remarks are inadmissible for any Russian official, particularly for a representative of the Federal Migration Service," Konstantin Romodanovsky, the service's head, said yesterday.
Mr Poltoranin had been the chief spokesman for the service, which implements immigration policy, since 2005. Yesterday he denied being a racist but stood by his comments.Reuse content