Staunton, August 13 – Police brutality at the Moscow protests (spektr.press/news/2019/08/13/u-aktivistki-kotoruyu-policejskij-udaril-v-zhivot-nashli-cherepno-mozgovuyu-travmu/) and justified by the Kremlin (znak.com/2019-08-13/kreml_opravdyvaet_zhestkie_deystviya_silovikov_na_akciyah_protesta_v_moskve) has its roots in poor training, the use of masks, and the experience of police in the North Caucasus, according to two former policemen.
They predict that the situation will get worse as protests increase because the authorities will be compelled to bring in even more officers without special training in crowd control and will see that their colleagues who behaved badly in earlier demonstrations have not been held accountable because since they wore masks, no one can say who is guilty.
But one of them stresses that all of this is exacerbating tensions within the police force, most of whose officers are unpolitical professionals and the minority, often with experience in the North Caucasus, who think that brutality is an appropriate and useful tool against the opposition.
Moreover, they suggest, because many of the professionals are appalled by what is going on, they are leaving the force in ever larger numbers, thus shifting the balance within the police and the siloviki more generally away from those who are committed to obeying the law toward those who think that brutality is acceptable.
Vladimir Vorontsov, a 13-year veteran of the Moscow police who now heads the Police Ombudsman webpage, says that some police are well trained and professional but that as protests have grown, more without training are being used (meduza.io/feature/2019/08/13/pochemu-politseyskie-byut-lyudey-na-mitingah-im-prikazyvayut-chto-oni-govoryat-o-svoey-rabote-doma).
Many officers resent being assigned to crowd control, viewing it as a distraction from their real mission of fighting crime; and some commanders view assigning people to this task as a form of punishment. That is all the more so because the police who are sent to control protests are often not paid the supplements they are supposed to get.
That forces those in charge to bring in police from nearby cities like Kaluga, Tula, Ryazan and Vladimir who are even less trained in dealing with crowds and even less interested in being there than are the Moscow police.
According to Vorontsov, the majority of police are apolitical; but some do accept the ideological image of the opposition put out by the regime and believe that those taking part in demonstrations are “enemies” of Russia and thus do not deserve to be treated with the respect they would accord even to criminals.
The police forced to work with protesters are also affected by two other factors, both of which push them in the wrong direction, the ombudsman says. On the one hand, they are infected by the attitudes of the Russian Guard whose officers are far more inclined to use force against the population than are the police.
And on the other – and this is more critical – the recent decisions of the powers that be to put the police in masks gives many there the sense that they cannot be identified and therefore can do anything they like without fear of reprisal from the population or punishment by the authorities for illegal actions.
Many in the police are unhappy with what is happening and leaving. “I have the sense,” Vorontsov says, that “everything is falling apart.” Those sent to control demonstrations aren’t getting the extra money they are promised, and therefore, “the larger the demonstrations in the future, the more the interior ministry will be shaken within,” with more officers leaving. n
Another police veteran, now retired, suggests that an additional factor is at work. Andrey Ivanov who worked in the police in Pskov oblast for many years before retiring in 2015 says that ever more police have experience working in the North Caucasus where brutal behavior by the police and other siloviki is the norm.
When they return to Russia proper, they bring that experience back with them, he says, and they think that acting toward civil protesters as they acted toward militants in the Caucasus mountains is entirely reasonable, appropriate and effective, yet another way the events in one place are bleeding into another (mbk-news.appspot.com/region/ne-konchenye-a-zhertvy/