A Muslim man from Russia's North Caucasus was sentenced Friday to 20 years in a high-security prison for killing an ethnic Russian after a trial that highlighted rising racial tensions within the country.
The Moscow court judge sentenced Aslan Cherkesov eight days after a jury convicted him of murdering Yegor Sviridov, a soccer fan whose shooting in a street fight last December sparked some of Moscow's worst ethnic violence since the Soviet collapse.
Cherkesov's sentencing comes a week before demonstrations in Moscow and other cities on a holiday honouring Russia's history, an occasion that nationalists will use to air criticism of ethnic minorities and labour migration.
Analysts and nationalists have said they suspect the sentencing was timed to appease extremists before the November 4 Russian March rallies. A shorter sentence might have been used by racists as a cause for anger and added to tension.
Political observers say rising nationalism and ethnic tension is one of the biggest threats to the stability that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- who plans to return to the presidency in a vote next March -- casts as his main achievement.
Neo-nationalist groups have been swelling in size in Russia, which is home to around 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the population.
Moscow has become a focal point for racist violence in recent years due to a mix of disenchanted Slavic youths and Muslim labour migrants from both Russia's North Caucasus and ex-Soviet Central Asia.
With high unemployment and an Islamist insurgency raging across the North Caucasus -- which includes Chechnya, the site of two devastating post-Soviet separatist wars -- many people from the region travel to the capital in search of jobs.
Sviridov's death and the release of some of his alleged attackers brought thousands of nationalist youths onto the streets of central Moscow, where they attacked non-Slavic looking passersby on December 11.
On October 20, a Moscow City Court jury found Cherkesov guilty of murder and convicted five co-defendants, all also from the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus, of lesser crimes. The co-defendants were given 5-year prison terms Friday.
The jury said Cherkesov, 27, and his companions were guilty of starting the fight and beating Sviridov's friends. The 20-year sentence for Sviridov was close to the 23 years that prosecutors had requested.
In a separate Moscow courtroom, five men accused of participating in the December violence were five-and-a-half years.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Alexander Reshetnikov and Dmitry Madorsky; Editing by Alison Williams)