Provocateurs in Black

April 25, 2013
Bolotnaya Square

In the last issue of Novaya Gazeta, we noted that the December 12 Round Table, the Republican Party of Russia Party of Popular Freedom (RPR PARNAS) and the May 6 Committee conducted an independent investigation of the events on Bolotnaya Square. Today the report will be presented at public hearings, and we publish below without commentary the most important excerpts.

“The application was submitted in accordance with the law: two weeks before the date of the event, on Monday, 23 April 2012”.

[…]  Moscow government representatives promised to complete the approval process before the evening of 28 April, however […] the official notification of the approval was given only on 4 May 2012, that is, two days before the event. The organizers were informed of “approval for the conduct on 6 May 2012 from 16:00 of a demonstration on Kaluzhskaya Square along the streets Bolshaya Yakimanka and Bolshaya Polyanka up to Bolotnaya Square, and a rally from 19:30 on Bolotnaya Square […] with up to 5,000 participants. […] The approval was signed by A. V. Mayorov, head of the department for regional security of the city of Moscow.

[…] On 5 May 2012 a meeting took place at the mayor’s office in which Sergei Davidis took part on the part of the applicants.  As Davidis testifies, usually at such technical meetings, the route for the column of the march, and the placement of the fences, stage and police forces are coordinated.  However, on 5 May, this was not done. […]

Two days before the action, a route was published on the RIA Novosti site that completely duplicated the route of 4 February. Such a map also appeared on the site of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Moscow. From the maps cited it was obvious that the zone where the approved event was to be held included in full both the park in Bolotnaya Square and the entire area located between building No. 2 on Serafimovicha Street and building No. 14 on Bolotnaya Street, along Serafimovicha Street between Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge and Maly Kamenny Bridge, Bolotnaya Embankment and Bolotnaya Square. […] All the violent actions of the participants of the event, of the provocateurs and police, took place inside the perimeter of the approved location for holding the event.

[…] Without warning to the applicants, unlawfully and without notification, the authorities significantly changed the map and route of the march, departing from the principal map of 4 February 2012. The document was signed by O.V. Baranov, chief of police, “On fulfillment of assignment” of 15 August.  2012.

“The Department of Public Order of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Moscow did not coordinate with the organizations of the public event a mapping solution  and plan for providing public order and safety in the city of Moscow on 6 May 2012, and did not notify the public and the participants in the event.”

[…]  By contrast with 4 February 2012, the park at Bolotnaya Square was closed with metal barriers and by police (thus a significant portion of Bolotnaya Square was in fact removed from the zone of the approved event), and only a narrow section of Bolotnaya Embankment was open.

The Power Ministries 

[…] According to various official and unofficial figures, on that day in the center of Moscow more than 12,800 Internal Affairs officers were concentrated, including 8,094 in the area of Bolotnaya Square. These include: 5,334 police, including riot troops [OMON];  100 officers of the State Road Safety Inspection; 2,400 Internal Troops soldiers (units 3641, 3500); 200 Internal Affairs trainees. Moreover, a large number of vehicles were deployed, including street cleaners, which made up obstructive barriers on Bolshoy Kamenny and Bolshoy Moskoretsk Bridges, and also the side streets that let out on to Bolshaya Yakimanka.  Besides the Moscow police and the OMON, significant numbers of troops were drawn from suburban Moscow (Sofrino, Balashikha), St. Petersburg, Ivanova, Mariy-El, Chelyabinsk and even from Yakutsk. […]

Moreover, before the beginning of the action on Bolotnaya Square and Serafimovicha Street, cars arrived from the RF Investigative Committee. Information about this is contained in the report by V.P. Lukin, the human rights ombudsman.


[…] This is a reference to young people of athletic build, dressed in black t-shirts and black jeans, and wearing balaclava masks on their face. These young people, on command from one of the policeman, were allowed in virtually as a formation without searches.

Eyewitness story:  “At the moment I was passing through, a group of young people came up to me, college-age, wearing black balaclava masks, black t-shirts and black jeans. The policeman who forced me to pass through a fence told the other policemen that these young people were not to be searched and were allowed through outside the fence all at once. That surprised me.”

[…] Eyewitness report:  “I saw a group of about 20-30 young people to the right of the march, dressed in black, some in masks and others had plastic bags. I noticed one of them had some brass knuckles in his hand. The group stood out in the crowd, and I began to grow alarmed. I began to call to the police standing along the march that there were some suspicious citizens in the crowd with some items that were not allowed at rallies. I was able to get their attention, but no actions by the police followed.

Maly Kamenny Bridge

[…] People only really became alarmed when the OMON soldiers appeared at 16:56 in full battle gear after the Bolshoy Yakimanka Passage. They began to move parallel to the march. They were wearing armor and had clubs in their hands.

Eyewitness account:  “As the march moved along Yakimanka (at least, to the left of it) a tight chain of OMON police constantly moved along with it, wearing armor and carrying clubs; this wasn’t the case, for example, in the February 2012 demonstration along that same route.”

[…] The march stopped directly on the Maly Kamenny Bridge. The first columns of demonstrators ran into the rows of Internal Forces emergency soldiers, behind which stood riot police in full battle gear according to Form No. 4 (helmet, bullet-proof vest, knee-guards, elbow-guards, shoulder-guards, shields and gloves with protective shields). But people saw that there were still several rows of OMON fighters and heavy street-cleaning vehicles on Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge, behind which there were buses with riot police again. People froze from such a demonstration of armed force.

The march stopped after running into the detachment of troops blocking the way

[…] The first groups of “disorganized” demonstrators went to the cordon. Despite the fact that the density of the flow of people was not so high and the general scene was seen sufficiently by the demonstrators, people managed to pass along Bolotnaya Embankment with obvious difficulties, which was expressed in the crowding up of the stream of people on the right flank at the place where Maly Kamenny Bridge exits (we will recall that after Maly Kamenny Bridge itself, with a width of 40 meters to pass through, the width of the area left by the police chain was barely 10 minutes, which led to traffic jams at the entrance).

[…] Even this narrow passageway which had been left open on the Embankment was not visible already from the second row of demonstrators.

Eyewitness report:  “As we broke through to the right side of the bridge, I saw an exit on to the Embankment which had not been closed off by the OMON. In such a crowd, you could  find out about a possible exit from the bridge of a width of a few meters (!!!), only if you were in the place itself.”

[…] Those marching with unfurled banners in the main column ran into the police blockade. The leaders sat down on the road in the middle of Maly Kamenny Bridge in a sign of protest against the fact that the march was not being allowed through to the rally, and in order to emphasize once again the peaceful, non-violent nature of the protest.

Opinion about this “sit-in” among the march participants was divided: the majority considers that it was undoubtedly a justified measure, which prevented a massive crush; others believe that the sit-in itself threatened to create a crush.

[…] During the standing and sitting at Maly Kamenny Bridge, many witnesses noted the appearance of the group of obvious provocateurs, not having any relationship to the participants of the march. […]  From the side of the Udarnik [Shock-Worker] Theater, a group in dark jackets were allowed through the police barrier, according to the testimony of witnesses, and they actively deployed along the police resistance and provoked the participants in the march and the police to conflict.

Eyewitness report:  “Then, from the side of the Udarnik Theater, some sort of athletic young men in masks hiding their faces went along the police chain. I didn’t count them, but I think there were about 20-30 people. They behaved rudely, provocatively, swore loudly and pushed people. Then, turning back, some of them tried to take my by the hand and break through the chain with me. After I elbowed my way away from them, surprised, they looked at me and swore then went further.”

[…] During the “sit-in”, V. Lukin, the human rights ombudsman, journalist Nikolai Svanidze, member of the Public Chamber and State Duma Deputies Gennady and Dmitry Gudkov repeatedly made attempts to have negotiations about widening the passageway and allowing the march on to Bolotnaya Embankment, but these failed.

[…] 17:58: Movement within the column of demonstrators arises that is not quite clear on the Maly Kamenny Bridge. At that time a “river in the crowd” appeared and headed toward the corner of Maly Kamenny Most and Bolotnaya Embankment.

A kind of “hernia” erupted in the police cordon at the corner of Bolotnaya Embankment. The police line made those very “two steps forward”, which are repeatedly cited in testimonies as a reason for the breach.

[…] Eyewitness Report:  “After some time, those who were in the line (OMON and the Internal Troops soldiers) began to push the crowd back from the direction they came, that is, toward Yakimanka. But people kept coming and coming from there. A crush began. The people who stood right in front of the chain were forced to back up. The danger emerged that people would crush each other. The OMON troops and Internal Troops made a step forward on the command “Now!” and pushed people in the chest. People were forced to go backwards.

 The Breach

[…] 18:00: The onset of the breach. It started as a “hernia” in the cordon, and not at all from the left, but from the side of the Udarnik Theater. The breach is made by some strange people with a criminal look. […] Almost simultaneously the police cordon to the left collapses, near the Udarnik, and further to the right, at the very gate to Bolotnaya Embankment. However, the organizers of the rally, including S. Udaltsov, A. Sakhnin and B. Nemtsov took active measures in order to stop the movement and the crush and direct the stream toward Bolotnaya Embankment. The pressure in the crowd essentially pushed over the significant part of the remains of the police cordon, and in fact people even from relatively far-away rows wounded up in the breach.

[…] Practically all the police who remained on the square immediately began to detain people without reason and convey them to buses prepared in advance; moreover, those seized from one row of demonstrators had not broken behind the line. (V. Akimenkov, under investigation in the Bolotnaya case, was detained just in this manner.)

[…] For 4-5 minutes after the breach, a bottleneck at the turn from Maly Kamenny Bridge to Bolotnaya Embankment remained wider, and a significant number of people managed to move on to the Embankment, which, along with the breach, saved them from a massive crush.

18:04: Reinforced OMON lines began to ram down the remaining people on Maly Kamenny Bridge, pushing the front toward the Kadashevskaya Embankment, creating a crush that was critically dangerous to people’s lives in the crowd, and grabbing the first ones that happened to get there by the hand.

Eyewitness report: “People in front of me began to fall, I fell down, people fell on me, I began to suffocate under the weight of the bodies falling on me and stretched out my hand. Nobody around me helped, but one OMON policeman gave me a hand and pulled me out of the pile-up of bodies, for which I am extremely grateful. After that, I helped the other people to stand up and left the rally via Luzhkov Bridge.”

Another cordon set up perpendicular to the first pushed demonstrators down along Bolotnaya Embankment. As a result, the demonstrators ended up divided into three parts: on Maly Kamenny Bridge; on Bolotnaya Embankment between Maly Kamenny Most to Luzhkov Bridge (before the OMON line) and from Luzhkov Bridge to the stage.

[…]  The testimonies of police officials in the cases of persons indicted and also a number of additional sources cause us to doubt the spontaneous nature of the burst through the cordon.

[…] According to the testimony of police officials, which was also announced in court, they received an order to “suppress the mass disorders” in the interval between 16:00-17:00, that is, no less than an hour before the “breakthrough” and the start of the clash of demonstrators with police.

When reviewed together with the testimony cited above about the presence and actions of provocateurs among the demonstrators, this information compels us to raise the question of whether the “breakthrough” was the result of a planned large-scale provocation on the part of the law-enforcement bodies which had as its purpose the creation of a pretext for the forceful dispersal and suppression of an approved rally.


[…] 18.21: The OMON undertook the first attack on the demonstrations on Bolotnaya Embankment, but then retreated. Already at the moment of this first attack, the OMON began to display completely unprovoked brutality in dealing with demonstrators who were practically not resisting.

[…]  During the “standing” at the corner of Bolotnaya Embankment, several flares and empty plastic bottles were thrown from the crowd. The faces of several of those who threw the flares were distinctly visible in the viewers of video cameras, however not a single one of them are under investigation today.

[…] 18.25: Participants in the rally carried out sections of the metal fences near the trees at the corner of Maly Kamenny Bridge and created a barrier from the OMON in the zone of its first attack. After abortive attempts, the OMON broke through the barrier (at 18:29) and began active unsystematic brutal detentions of demonstrators, squeezing them toward the parapet of the embankment along Obvodny Canal. An analysis of the video footage and witness testimonies illustrates that demonstrators made no aggressive actions against police.

[…] Later, for more than an hour, the events occurred by the exact same scheme: OMON brigades of 5-20 people broken through the crowd of demonstrators, subjecting people to brutal beatings, seizing the next detainees and rolling back. Almost all the witnesses noted what was for them the completely inexplicable brutality of the OMON’s actions.

[…] From the direction of the demonstrators (mainly from the group of trees on the corner of Maly Kamenny Bridge and Bolotnaya Embankment) going toward the OMON, some pieces of pavement went flying. They were thrown at first mainly by the young people in masks, […] however the police for inexplicable reasons paid no attention to them and continued to attack the peaceful demonstrators.

The situation with the pavement requires particular review. There is testimony enabling us to claim that some part of the pavement was dismantled even the night before. Even so, despite safety regulations, the pieces of pavement remained uncollected and were only thrown into a pile.

Eyewitness report:  “On the day before at night, Mosvodokanal [Moscow Canal] broke up the cobblestones all to hell with jackhammers, from where the youth force threw the pavement.”

[…] Numerous witnesses are noting that the flares and stones flying at the policemen were thrown back by them at the  crowd of unarmed and unprotected people.

From the Editors

We have provided the results of a public investigation, but some questions have remained from the editors:

1)      Why did the activists who were at the head of the march not turn, as planned, on to Bolotnaya Square? Were there barriers or check gates for searches?

2)      Is it true that participants of the rally, above all from the activists of the leftist movement, had previously agreed about a possible change of the route and a “breakthrough”?

3)      Was there a conspiracy among a group of provocateurs who participated in the rally and the power ministries to use the brutal option for dispersal?

We will try to answer in the near future.