400 Russian Police Clash With Roma Residents in Tula Over Gas Siphoning

March 17, 2016
Riot police in Tula clash with Roma community over gas siphoning on March 17, 2016. Screen grab from TeleTula coverage

LIVE UPDATES: Police cracked down on residents of a Roma community in Tula who were accused of illegal gas-siphoning. The villagers said they would pay for gas but it had been cut off by authorities.

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400 Russian Police Clash With Roma in Tula Over Gas Siphoning

Local residents of the village of Plekhanovo in Tula reportedly threw rocks and stones to stop the repair of a broken gas 
pipeline they had used for illegal siphoning of gas, Interfax reported.
But video footage taken by a local TV station of the scene doesn’t indicate any rocks being thrown, but shows overwhelming numbers of police beating townspeople. And an interview with a local Roma leader painted a different picture of a people desperate for fuel in the winter whose service was cut off for bureaucratic reasons.
Interfax said police were sent in to “maintain order” where the gas line was damaged, a law-enforcement source said (translation by The Interpreter):

Safety is being secured by more than 400 police officers who are not letting the town residents access to the place where the work is under way. There are no serious unlawful actions on the part of the local residents; several people have been detained for hooliganism.

Translation: Police detained two gypsies in Plekhanovo who had shown resistance.

Interfax said this was an area where mainly Roma reside, and they had tried to prevent the gas service workers from fixing the pipe, and police had to be summoned.

Workers found the pipe had several dozen unlawful incisions in it where people were siphoning gas off to homes and a store. Water got into one of these cut which damaged the line. Gas had to be turned off for 400 homes on 11 streets, affecting about 2,000 people.

Investigators have opened up a case regarding the incident. According to Lyubov Kuznetsova, senior aide to the regional prosecutor, residents who threw rocks and sticks at the gas workers were issued warnings that if they interfered with repairs they would be liable to prosecution.
Authorities also took the opportunity to check the documents of the Roma who were not living at the address of their residential registration, and also look at how utilities are being used.
Interfax fails to tell how many people were involved in this incident, and why so many police had to be sent. 

But judging from the pictures of the local news service Newstula.ru and local TV videos, there were perhaps several dozen townspeople, and one is laying on the ground clutching his head as if he has been beaten by a policeman, or as the news service said after “application of special equipment in the form of clubs,” i.e. riot gear.

A video uploaded to YouTube by TeleTula shows hundreds of well-armed police in helmets with riot shields and clubs, and several dozen townspeople, some of whom are shouting and pushing.

One man calls urges the police to “go calmly, there are women there!” and continues trying to reason with them.

The video is a disturbing glimpse into Russian provincial life in the thick of the economic crisis, where poor people who have lost a third of their income — if they had jobs or savings — and have also had welfare cuts are unable to obtain basic needs.

In another video uploaded by TeleTula, Maksim Shcherbakov, head of the Tula Zarechensky Territorial District, said the incident was “liquidated” and police were still on the site and gas workers were checking homes.

TeleTula says in the description to its video that “there is a real rebellion” this morning in the town over the gas issue. In the video, a reporter asks Shcherbakov, “Why is there such a rebellion?” And Shcherbakov says “Because they risk being left without gas supply and they were concealing the fact of illegal incisions.”

TeleTula then interviewed a local Roma representative who gave his first name and patronymic as Boris Grigoryevich, who explained more of the background of their situation. He said they formerly had documents that enabled them to receive gas supply normally in their homes, but recently, for some inexplicable reason, this was halted. 

He said the community was “willing to pay for gas, like all people” if given the opportunity.

“When they reconstructed these projects, they took away our documents. We want gas to be hooked up like all people have, we will pay, make it like it is for all people. But they refuse us everywhere. People want to register it. But they refuse! Where are we to go?! Now it was winter, and they turned off our gas. There are 300 families. Each family has 15 people.”

Another resident interrupted him and said “not counting the Russians” — who also live in the community.

“People are being lost,” said Boris Grigoryevich. “Children are getting sick.”

He urged authorities to provide gas at least until May, and then cut it off for the summer if they needed to.

 — Catherine A. Fitzpatrick