MOSCOW -- Russian TV stations aren't usually fainthearted when it comes to covering supposed acts of brutality by foreigners against Russian children.
But when reports emerged that a nanny from Uzbekistan had pulled the severed head of a 4-year-old girl from a bag outside a busy Moscow metro station and cried "Allahu Akhbar," Russia's main channels acted as if it simply hadn't happened.
Many Russians believe that this was the result of a Kremlin order to keep the gruesome story off-screen in order to avoid inciting ethnic tensions in a country that relies heavily on labor from Central Asia -- and to play down news that cast a grim light on life in President Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Whatever the motive, the decision to withhold the story from viewers was diametrically opposed to the approach the same channels tend to take when an ethnic Russian is the alleged victim of violence abroad.
In July 2014, Russia's state-run Channel One reported from war-torn eastern Ukraine that a 3-year-old Russian boy had been crucified by Ukrainians, sparking outrage among many ethnic Russians in Ukraine -- though the story turned to be untrue.
Earlier this year, Russian TV stations reported on what they described as the abduction and gang rape by migrants of a teenage girl whose family emigrated from Russia, sparking outcry among many Russians living in Germany. That, too, turned out not to have happened.
By contrast, part of the tragedy that played out in Moscow on February 29 could be seen in on the Internet. Grisly images and video footage of a black-clad woman holding up a bloodied child's head flooded social networks, prompting broad coverage in the Russian online and print media.
But on the main TV channels, which reach far larger audiences across Russia and set the country's news agenda, the incident was ignored.
The contrast was lost on few observers.
"I can imagine what would have happened if a migrant nanny cut off the head of a little girl in Berlin or Cologne. The agitprop wouldn't stop for a month," wrote Pavel Pryanikov, chief editor of the blogging website LiveJournal. "Here – it'll be forgotten in a few days.
'Too Monstrous' For TV
A survey of news programming by RFE/RL showed that none of the three main channels -- state-run Rossia-1 and Channel One, and NTV -- covered the disabled toddler's killing.
The news on Rossia-1 at 2 p.m., for instance, led on a funeral wake following a coal-mine disaster in the northern city of Vorkuta, a new fuel tax, and the truce in Syria, making no mention of the incident in a 24-minute program.
Media outlet RBK cited two state television employees who said the killing had been airbrushed out of the news agenda at the behest of the Kremlin in order to avoid stirring up nationalist sentiment.
Killings of ethnic Russians or other Slavs by representatives of other ethnic groups have triggered unrest among extreme nationalists on several occasions in Russia, where tension between Slavs and minorities from the Caucasus and Central Asia is a persistent problem.
In October 2013, rioting nationalists in Moscow overturned cars, smashed windows, and stormed a warehouse where migrants work after the killing of an ethnic Russian man was attributed to an Azerbaijani.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on March 1 that the Kremlin approved of the TV stations' decision not to report the news, but denied that it was the result of a directive from the president's office.
"The federal channels do not receive orders from the Kremlin," the newspaper Vedomosti quoted Peskov as saying. His remark contradicts past accounts by insiders of frequent meetings and instructions in which the Kremlin allegedly advises the main channels on their coverage.
Peskov said the girl's death and the actions of her nanny were "too monstrous to show on TV."
WATCH: Woman Pulls Child's Severed Head From Bag In Moscow (WARNING: Disturbing Content)
However, the same channels have frequently gone further than many Western media outlets in showing gory scenes, such as the corpses of alleged militants killed by Russian security forces in the North Caucasus.
Authorities said they were not treating the girl's death as a terrorist attack and that the suspect was being subjected to a psychiatric evaluation. But despite that and the denial that the blackout was ordered by the Kremlin, there were other signs the authorities were moving to curb any actions by nationalists over the incident.
The Interfax news agency cited a source as saying law enforcement agencies were holding "preventative chats" with representatives of youth organizations, fearing some kind of street reaction.
Extremists were stirring up anger on social networks. Radio station Govorit Moskva reported that nationalists were planning to gather for a "memorial event" at the Moscow metro station where the nanny brandished the child's head.
Nationalist blogger Yegor Prosvirnin wrote an article on February 29 in which he denigrated Uzbeks and accused state-run and liberal media of trying to downplay the significance of the alleged crime by suggesting that the suspect was insane.
Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny suggested that TV channels that ignored the incident or skewed the reporting were failing to do their part to protect a large segment of the population.
"This is in principle all that you need to know about the defense of Russian speakers in Russia," Navalny, who has come under fire for nationalist remarks in the past, wrote on his blog.
Some took a more jocular approach in their criticism of the coverage gap.
The satirical website Russiainyourface.com ran a report on March 1 headlined: "Breaking: Nothing Happened In Moscow Yesterday."
Others said suppressing the news was the right thing to do.
Film critic Anton Dolin argued that broad coverage would have encouraged xenophobic stereotyping among viewers, who he said might jump to the conclusion that "Muslims are a nightmare" or "nannies from Central Asia are dreadful."
But Ilya Klishin, editor-in-chief of Dozhd TV, said those who supported withholding the news were showing signs of "Stockholm Syndrome" by defending the authorities.
"Who ultimately has the right to hide information from society? There are dry and scarce facts, they weren't relayed," Klishin said on Facebook.
Ekho Moskvy radio anchor Vladimir Varfolomeyev was also critical, saying that the response by law enforcement and the state media presented telling "symbols" of Russia today.
Referring to claims that police officers initially ran away from the nanny instead of detaining her, Varfolomeyev wrote: "Police running away and the silent TV -- the symbols of our wonderful state."