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Putin Creates State Agency To Oversee Ethnic Issues

Russian President Vladimir Putin has decreed the creation of a federal agency to oversee ethnic issues in the huge, multiracial country.

According to the decree signed on March 31, the new agency's major goal will be to prevent ethnic or religious discrimination and thwart attempts to "incite hatred."

The agency will also regulate the government's cooperation with Cossacks, semi-militarized groups the Kremlin has been using to promote conservative values and enforce order.

Russia has over 100 ethnic groups, including many non-Slavic indigenous groups in the Volga River region, Siberia, the North Caucasus, and the Far East.

Putin has juggled nationalist rhetoric and praise for the dominant Russian Orthodox church with warnings of the dangers of ethnic and religious strife in Russia, which has a large Muslim minority.

Russia has sought to justify its annexation of Crimea and sympathy for rebels in eastern Ukraine by saying it must protect the rights of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.

But rights groups accuse Russia of violating the rights of the Muslim, Turkic-speaking Tatar minority in Crimea since the takeover.

Based on reporting by AFP and TASS