In Depth

Current TV & Christof Putzel: 'From Russia With Hate'

Provoked by shocking, violent videos disseminated on the Internet of people being beaten, Current TV correspondent Christof Putzel and his co-producer/videographer Lauren Cerre traveled to Russia to investigate the rise of a neo-Nazi faction that was inciting ethnic violence.

The du Pont Award-winning “From Russia With Hate” documents the socioeconomic factors from which the racism stems. It also gives viewers an inside look at leaders who not only condoned the violence but actually trained people to commit the attacks, some of which were captured on video and used to recruit others.

“We had to walk a fine line of not wanting to be an outlet for propaganda. It was an incredibly important story that needed to be told, so we went for it,” Mr. Putzel said. “Anyone with a solid moral grounding can watch this stuff and see it for what it is.”

When the borders of the former Soviet Union were opened in the early 1990s, immigrants from surrounding areas of central Asia entered the country in order to find jobs and a better life, shifting the ethnic balance of the population. Racism and discrimination against these immigrants and other foreigners, including students, was fomented by the burgeoning neo-Nazi movement, which in Russia now is estimated to number as many as 70,000 people—half of the world’s skinhead population.

Mr. Putzel went to Russia for two weeks in 2007, arriving on April 19, the day before Adolf Hitler’s birthday, and a time of year that has become notorious for a spike in racial attacks. The situation is so dangerous that foreign students at Moscow universities are locked down in their dormitories because of fear for their safety during this period.

In further exposing the climate of hate that exists, Mr. Putzel spoke with an ultra-right-wing lawmaker, Nikolai Kuryanovich, who has introduced anti-immigrant legislation in Russia’s parliament, the Duma, including a failed bill that would take away the citizenship of any Russian woman who marries a foreigner. His office wall was decorated with a picture featuring his head Photoshopped onto Josef Stalin’s body.

“When we interviewed him, he had just come back from [Boris] Yeltsin’s funeral, and he talked to us about his hopes for the country and bringing back Stalinism. It was crazy,” Mr. Putzel said. “What was shocking to us is that his aide, who is a skinhead thug, had been arrested for beating up immigrants. It was surreal.”

When the lawmaker was asked on camera if he advocated that kind of violence, he told the American crew that it was justified because the Russian government is not taking action.

Some of the most harrowing scenes in the piece involve Mr. Putzel’s “infiltration” of a hidden skinhead training camp in the woods about two hours outside Moscow after his interview with National Socialist Organization leader Dmitri Rumyantsev, who ran a gym that was used to train young men to fight. Mr. Putzel also wanted to find out if Mr. Rumyantsev was connected to the Internet attack videos.

In the interview, the paranoid leader, who was concerned about police following him to Mr. Putzel’s hotel room, admitted he morally supported the attacks. He would not reveal whether his organization provided moral or physical support.

A week later, he gave Mr. Putzel access to the secret training camp, which featured an obstacle course and hand-to-hand combat training for recruits that was part of an annual NSO initiation rite.

“We face ethnic expansion on our land and the replacement of our people with foreigners. Therefore, any form of resistance can only be welcomed. Terror, violence, explosions, murders. Anything goes in the name of the nation,” one of the NSO members said on camera.

At the camp, Mr. Putzel was introduced to a skinhead, Maxim “Tesak” Martsinkevich—whose nickname means “hatchet” in Russian—who seemed to delight in showing violent videos of his cronies beating immigrants senseless.

“He was later nailed for instigating racial hatred and threatening violence, and is serving a three-year term,” Mr. Putzel said. “He fancied himself a modern-day Goebbels and saw our interview as propaganda, and didn’t care what the consequences were.”