"Our march was a decisive moment in the history of the Russian patriotic movement: It is no longer a marginal group but a popular force that everyone will have to take into account," said Alexander Belov, leader of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, or DPNI, which provided an umbrella for the ultranationalist groups that took part in a march to mark the new Nov. 4 holiday.
Thousands of nationalists and unabashed skinheads paraded through the center of Moscow, giving Nazi salutes and carrying signs saying "Clean Russia of the Occupiers." The march was authorized by city authorities.
At about the same time, TV Center, a Moscow television channel with a national outreach, began showing a provocative campaign ad for the nationalist Rodina party, one of only four parties represented in the State Duma. The ad, which featured boorish dark-skinned migrants eating watermelon and tossing the rinds on the ground, called for "clearing the city of garbage."
It was taken off the air after city prosecutors began investigating complaints that it incited ethnic hatred. Rogozin reportedly has vowed to bring back the ad in a different form: The neighborhood would be identified as Paris one year ago and the characters would speak French.
The recent rioting in France by dark-skinned youth of African and Arab origin has been shown extensively on state television news programs, where it has elicited excited finger-pointing by nationalist politicians and commentators who portray migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia in Russian cities as the major threat to the Russian nation.
Also this month, state-owned Channel One has been showing an intensely promoted saga about the archetypal Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who in the television serial is driven to his death by stereotypical Jewish ill-wishers around him, although the consensus in the literary world is that Yesenin committed suicide at a time of deep personal crisis. The serial also portrays the 1917 Revolution as being funded by "Western" money.
If previously the nationalist card was played largely by political and public forces as part of a larger agenda, nationalism has recently become a force of its own, said Dmitry Badovsky, a political scientist with the Institute of Social Systems at Moscow State University.
"It is like toothpaste that can no longer be pushed back into the tube," he said.
Badovsky said the Kremlin's attempts to energize youth political activism in order to fight off a velvet revolution in Russia had brought young violent nationalists close to entering public politics.
The mood seems ripe. In a poll released last week by the independent Levada Center, half of the 1,880 respondents said they would support banning natives of the Caucasus from living in Russia. The survey did not specify whether this referred to people from the North Caucasus, which is part of Russia, or from former Soviet republics that are now independent countries.
Slightly fewer supported a ban on Chinese (46 percent) and Vietnamese (42 percent), while about one third supported keeping out natives of Central Asia (31 percent) and Gypsies (30 percent).
The survey, which was conducted in August, before the recent upsurge in nationalist sentiment, showed a slight increase from last year but a notable increase from three years ago.
This year, 59 percent said they wanted the government to cut the influx of migrants, compared with 45 percent in 2002. The poll has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Belov said DPNI had worked out "a special mobilization plan" to see how many people they could assemble at short notice, but on Nov. 4 "it worked beyond our wildest expectations." By different accounts, between 2,000 and 5,000 people joined the procession.
The official organizer of the parade, the nationalist Eurasian Youth Union, or ESM, had the Kremlin's blessing, but it was DPNI that took advantage of the situation, Belov said.
"We did what was good for us. We marched against migrants, not against the expansion of Western influence, as ESM had planned," he said with a note of triumph in his voice.
Valery Korovin, a senior member of ESM, said the xenophobic slogans on DPNI's banners were approved by city authorities as the march was beginning, against the will of his organization.
"When DPNI held out the banners with slogans against migrants, of which police were warned in advance, a deputy prefect of the city's central district who was there told policemen, 'Fine, let them go,'" Korovin said. "Authorities in fact legitimized the anti-migrant rhetoric."
Permission for the march was issued by deputy prefect Sergei Vasyukov, Novaya Gazeta reported Monday, citing a city document, a copy of which the newspaper had obtained from city officials.
Korovin said the march was a shock for the Kremlin, which is why it was not shown on national news broadcasts. "A dozen young Nazis shouting 'Heil!' on camera is enough to scare the liberal public, while 5,000 people on the march is a real threat to the state," he said.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said that by all appearances the nationalist threat had been orchestrated in the Kremlin.
"If Putin were able to run in 2008, the Kremlin would not need to use the nationalists, but to make people vote for an obscure candidate, you really need to scare them with an ugly alternative," he said.
Badovsky and Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies said the Kremlin would be able to keep nationalist leaders on a short leash at least until the 2008 presidential election.
Rodina leader Dmitry Rogozin, for instance, wants to be accepted at home and abroad as a legitimate political figure and would likely be unwilling to jeopardize his standing.
Keeping the young radical nationalists and skinheads under control would be a more difficult task. If nothing is done to stem the nationalist mood, we could see tens of thousands of youth marching in dozens of Russian cities next year, the analysts said.
Belov, for one, acknowledged that violent skinhead groups use his organization as an umbrella. He claimed to be able to persuade most of them not to use violence against dark-skinned migrants, but said some were beyond his influence.
Attempts to squash radical nationalists by police force would be counterproductive, the analysts and the nationalist leaders said.
Pribylovsky pointed to the crackdown on the radical National Bolshevik Party, which only gained strength after its activists were jailed after a protest action.
"We are not against the Kremlin, and it should understand that cracking down on us will only help us organize a real right-wing opposition to the regime," Belov said.
Badovsky said the Kremlin had driven itself against a wall in playing with the nationalists. "Nationalists are not known to be consistent partners," he said.
He also warned that if the economy were to plunge into crisis in coming years, the radical nationalists could become a strong alternative to the current regime.
"If this were to happen, given the multiethnic structure of the Russian Federation, there is a risk of the Balkanization of Russia," Badovsky said.