Warranted display of force. Law enforcement structures provoke civil disorder
Mass protest rallies have been taking place in Moscow on a regular basis since the beginning of this summer. People are protesting for lots of different reasons. However, the reaction of the law enforcement authorities is always the same: repression. What is the reason behind the brutality shown during the dispersion of mass rallies? A conscious intimidation policy or incompetence of law enforcement functionaries escalating the violence and unable to imagine the potential consequences of this?
This summer, the protest season started because of silly policemen who had planted drugs to Ivan Golunov, a journalist of Meduza.io. His arrest – allegedly, for drug dealing – sparked a massive public outcry, and the society managed to save the innocent guy from the police. Later, Russian President Vladimir Putin named the arrest of Golunov "lawlessness". Still, the release of Golunov was the only result of the mass protests. Not a single officer involved in this frame-up was punished.
Street activities can be seen latterly not only in Moscow – but throughout Russia: in Yekaterinburg, the Arkhangelsk region, and metropolitan area. However, the Kremlin considers the Russian capital the main bastion where public unrest must be suppressed by all means.
The current political crisis was caused by the elections to the Moscow Municipal Duma – that used to be of little interest to the public in the past. The authorities could not imagine that such an event may call Moscow residents – many of whom are currently on vacations or spending time in country homes – to the streets.
Ivan Golunov after the release
On July 14, a number of candidates barred from the elections on spurious pretexts had a meeting with their supporters in Novopushkinsky public garden; then all of them went to the Moscow Government and subsequently – to the Moscow City Election Committee on Mokhovaya street demanding to permit the candidates to participate in the elections and accept their signature lists. The police and National Guard of Russia have driven the protesters out of the yard and arrested several dozens of people, including the candidates – Lyubov Sobol, Yulia Galyamina, and Ilya Yasin. After that, the protesters started gathering on Trubnaya square on a daily basis demanding to permit the independent candidates to participate in the elections.
On July 20, an authorized rally with the same slogans was held on Sakharova avenue; it became the largest mass event in the last years. According to White Counter noncommercial voluntary movement, over 22 thousand people have attended it (according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation – 12 thousand). The protest rally was relatively quiet – only seven persons were detained. However, calls for new protests on July 27 expressed during it caused a predictable reaction of the authorities: residences of the barred candidates were searched, and many of them were summoned for questioning. Alexei Navalny was arrested at the exit from his home. On the morning of July 27, the police detained other leaders of the protest – Ivan Zhdanov, Lyubov Sobol, Dmitry Gudkov, Ilya Yasin, and Yulia Galyamina. All of them, except for Zhdanov and Sobol, still remain in custody.
First arrests – not only of protesters, but also bystanders walking in the city center, especially in the vicinity of the Moscow Government – started even before the rally. Vedomosti newspaper reported 5 thousand protesters, while the MIA – 3.5 thousand. The number of detained people was more than 1 thousand according to the MIA and 1388 according to the OVDInfo.org portal. The authorities have taken unprecedented measures on that day: journalists reported that policemen from neighboring cities were deployed in Moscow.
On August 3, another unauthorized rally was held. It had no single location: its participants were protesting in different sections of the Boulevard Ring. According to the police, some 1.5 thousand people have attended the rally; 600 of them were detained (1001 according to the OVDInfo.org).
With renewed vigor, the protesters have held an authorized rally on Sakharova avenue on August 10.
White Counter reported that some 50 thousand people have passed through metal detectors. Taking that some persons had arrived not through the main entrance; the total number of protesters was nearly 60 thousand. The event was attended by journalist and blogger Yuri Dud, Leonid Parfenov, comedian Danila Poperechny, rappers Face and Oxxxymiron, etc.
Oxxxymiron attends the rally on August 10
On August 17, an authorized rally was held on Sakharova avenue by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). In addition, the Moscow Government authorized a mass event for 100 thousand people to be held on August 25 on Sakharova avenue as per request of the Libertarian Party of Russia.
However, National Guard troopers and policemen had acted violently during the arrests on both authorized and unauthorized meetings; sometimes, they were simply beating people with batons.
For instance, on July 20, police officers broke an arm of Aleksei Kutenkov.
On July 27, designer Konstantin Konovalov was returning home from jogging three hours before the protest rally, and policemen broke his leg.
Arrest of Konovalov
During the meeting on August 3, Andrei Kurgin was riding a bicycle in Novopushkinsky public garden; police officers mistook him for a journalist and asked for his press card. Kurgin said that he is an ordinary citizen – and they lashed out at him and struck down to the ground. Kurgin was under the bicycle and unable to get on – so, the police had to carry him to the prison truck together with the bike.
On August 10, law enforcement structures started forcibly detaining people immediately after the end of the authorized rally. Victims were randomly taken from the crowd. The arrest of activist and blogger Vasily Nedopekin, a disabled person of group II, outraged the protesters: National Guard troopers put him on the knees, twisted his arms behind his back, then put Nedopekin on feet, and quickly dragged him to the prison van – even though the man could barely move.
During the arrest of Nedopekin, many protesters had asked the troopers not to shame themselves and let him go – but the guardians of law and order started arresting these people instead. Daria Sosnovskaya was among them. While being dragged to the prison van, she lost her glasses and asked to stop and pick them up – but no one listened to the girl. At some point, the police officer saw a baton on the ground and stooped to pick it up. Sosnovskaya continued moving inertially, stepped on his foot, and was brutally punched in the stomach.
According to Vladimir Vorontsov, creator of Police Ombudsman VKontakte community, such brutal actions are performed not as per orders – but on own initiative.
“Any protester is an enemy for them regardless of his behavior. They believe that the protester gets the deserved violence. They don’t care whether an officer has gone too far or not. In other words, there are ‘us’ and ‘them’,” – Vorontsov said in an interview to Meduza.io.
The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR), pro-Kremlin media outlets and online communities, Moscow Government, and other structures actively joined the repression of protests. It became clear that the entire state system makes a division not only between the protesters and authorities – but between ordinary citizens and power brokers. The repression tactics, including arrests of bystanders and demonstrative brutality, confirms this.
Back on July 24 (i.e. immediately after the first protests), a criminal case was instituted under Article 141 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (obstruction of the exercise of electoral rights or the work of electoral commissions). The investigation believes that "an organized group" of people has staged these mass rallies to intimidate members of the Moscow City Election Committee using "placards and slogans calling for violence".
On July 29, the ICR instituted a criminal case under Article 212 and 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (mass riots and use of violence against representatives of the power) in the aftermath of protest meetings held on July 27. According to the investigation, some unknown persons used the refusal of the Moscow City Election Committee as a pretext to infringe on the state security and organized "mass riots" with "armed resistance to representatives of the power".
The evidence used to prosecute people includes video records and statements of National Guard troopers claiming that they had suffered pain. Some “protest coordinators” and people throwing “paper cups and plastic bottles” into law enforcement officers are also mentioned in the case file. Several persons have been charged with inflicting harm to representatives of the power: one of them had allegedly hit the face of a National Guard trooper while lifting his face shield, while another one had pushed a law enforcement officer.
Nine persons have been remanded in custody for two months in the framework of this case. The investigation tried to detain director Dmitry Vasiliev suffering from diabetes – but he was admitted to intense therapy because the police had seized insulin from him. As a result, Vasiliev was initially declared a suspect and left at liberty, and then all charges laid against him were dropped.
According to the Criminal Code, mass riots involve violence, pogroms, arson, destruction of property, use of firearms, explosives, or explosive devices, and armed resistance to governmental representatives. None of that had happened on July 27. Neither video records nor statements of riot troopers indicate the commitment of such offenses. Margarita Simonyan, Editor-in-Chief of RT, and a TASS journalist reported the use of some “firecrackers” – but without any proof.
To top it off, a criminal case was instituted against the Anti-Corruption Foundation under Article 174 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (legalization (laundering) of funds and other property acquired by other persons illegally). According to a press release issued by the ICR, the Anti-Corruption Foundation has laundered 1 billion rubles ($15 million) in the period from January 2016 to December 2018.
Mosgortrans State Unitary Enterprise, Motor Road State Budgetary Institution, and ANCOR Limited Liability Company filed lawsuits against organizers of the mass protests held on July 27 to recover from them some 13 million rubles ($195.1 thousand) for the road closure in the center of Moscow, damages caused to small architectural forms and improvements, and forced closure of a cafe on Tverskaya street.
The authorities use the ‘random terror’ tactics prosecuting accidentally selected protesters.
For instance, 24-year-old actor Pavel Ustinov has been charged under more grievous part 2 of Article 318 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (use of violence endangering the lives or health against representatives of the power) – punishable by deprivation of liberty for a term of up to ten years – for allegedly dislocating an elbow of a National Guard trooper. Ustinov denies any guilt. According to his lawyer, the young man had served the compulsory military service in the National Guard and stood in cordons during the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
On August 14, the Presnensky District Court of Moscow remanded 34-year-old programmer Konstantin Kotov in custody. Kotov has been charged under rarely used Article 212.1 of the Criminal Code (repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies) for participation in protest meetings held on July 19 on Trubnaya square and on August 10 in the center of Moscow.
The ICR instituted a criminal case under Articles 125 and 156 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (leaving to danger and failure to discharge the duties of bringing up a minor) against spouses Prokazov – they had taken their one-year-old son to the protest rally on July 27 and then gave him to Sergei Fomin charged with participation in mass riots. Later, spouses Prokazov explained that Fomin is their relative and, contrary to the federal TV channels, he had not used the child as a shield to come through the cordon.
The Prokazov family
The cases against persons hurt by the police seem even more ridiculous.
Aleksei Kutenkov, whose arm was broken, was fined 1000 rubles ($15) under Article 19.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Russian Federation (failure to follow a lawful order of a police officer). The disabled person dragged to the prison van was not officially arrested – but later, bailiffs came to his residence and took an inventory of his belongings referring to debts under some old administrative protocols. Nedopekin claims that he was never notified of any administrative proceedings instituted against him.
An administrative protocol has been drawn up against Sosnovskaya punched by the police officer. The girl has been charged with shouting insulting slogans; she faces a fine of up to 20 thousand rubles ($300). Sosnovskaya, in turn, filed a complaint with the ICR in relation to the trauma inflicted to her by the police. According to the medical certificate, she returned from a peaceful rally with “a brain concussion, head soft tissue bruise, and bruise in the right part of the chest”. The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights also requested to punish the law enforcement officials.
The media published the name of the policeman who had punched Sosnovskaya: Sergei Tsyplakov, an officer of the 5th Battalion of the Operational Police Regiment № 2 of the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow. However, the MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow claims that this information is incorrect. In other words, the identities of the policemen punching the girl haven’t been established yet.
In response to the complaint filed by designer Konstantin Konovalov in relation to his broken leg, the ICR has stated that “the use of force by law enforcement officers was justified”. Representatives of the Kremlin promised to clarify the circumstances of his trauma. Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that he is not aware yet of the reasons behind the response of the ICR.
Cyclist Andrei Kurgin got off lightly: according to his own words, the police realized that his bike could not be loaded into the prison van and told him: “Get the f... out of here”. In other words, there was no need to detain him. With the assistance of his lawyer, Kurgin filed a complaint with the ICR – but no answer was received yet.
Zona Prava (Zone of the Right) human rights organization has filed with the ICR 12 complaints on behalf of the people beaten during the last three events – but not a single criminal case was instituted so far. The system protects its guardians – so, even cases under Article 286 of the Criminal Code (exceeding official powers) are unlikely. Police officers and National Guard troopers take every effort to avoid identification: cover helmets with a special film, wear balaclavas (even though this is contrary to the service regulations), and hide badges under armored vests. Furthermore, National Guard troopers don’t wear badges and are not obliged to introduce themselves to civilians.
Uniformed people without insignia
The impunity of law enforcement officers caused by their anonymity and actions of the investigative and judicial structures results in further violence – even though the Law on Police and Law on National Guard of Russia stipulate that force can be used only if somebody’s lives or health are in danger.
Unable to struggle with the opposition in the political field, the authorities can suppress protests only using violence. The Moscow Government was unable to solve the political crisis; as a result, law enforcement structures have taken full control over the city.
Take, for instance, an absurd statement made by Sergei Sobyanin on the air of TV Center station. He said – apparently, reading from a piece of paper – that the protesters were about to storm the Moscow Government, thus, forcing the police to use force. These words expose the true face of Sobyanin – a typical official making cynical statements and demonstrating his attitude to ordinary people.
The federal authorities had ignored the protests in Moscow for a long time. Putin had not commented on the rallies – as well as on other important events, including the rocket blast in Severodvinsk. Only on August 13, Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin does not consider the protest meetings “something outstanding” and the current situation – “a political crisis”. Instead, he suggested the candidates barred from the elections to apply to court.
On August 19 – i.e. more than a month after the beginning of the protests – the President said that “citizens have the right to peaceful... protests” but “no one has the right to violate the existing legislation and reduce the situation to absurdity or clashes with the authorities”. “This is a breach of the law, and those guilty of such breaches must be held liable in accordance with this Russian law,” – Putin said during the meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and added that he does not want to see anything like the yellow vests protests on the streets of Moscow.
Interestingly, the actions of National Guard troopers in Moscow are coordinated by Sergei Kusyuk – a former deputy regiment commander of Berkut Special Police Force in Kyiv. In November 2013, his subordinates have brutally dispersed a pro-Eurointegration rally held by students in Kyiv; as a result, hundreds of thousands of people came to Maidan Nezalezhnosti.
Today, the actions of the law enforcement authorities only raise the number of protesters – and new demands and slogans appear with each new rally. Should police officers or National Guard troopers go too far at some point, no one can predict the consequences.