Translation: Pressure on the Square

Were the events at Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, on May 6, 2012, the results of a police provocation, or were “opposition” provocateurs, either willingly or unwittingly acting in the interests of foreign powers, responsible? Kommersant’s Grigory Tumanov and Vyacheslav Kozlov try to find out.

Pressure on the Square

Could it have been calculated beforehand what would happen at Bolotnaya?

On Wednesday the case of 12 persons accused of rioting on May 6 at Bolotnaya Square during the “March of millions” was presented in court. It is expected that the proceedings will begin to be take place in June. As evidential material, which is also at the disposal of “Ъ” [Translator: Russian alphabet hard sign indicating the newspaper “Kommersant” that has its name spelt archaically in Russian using such a sign thus: Коммерсантъ], concerning the “big Bolotnaya case”, indicating that something rather more than a peaceful rally had been planned to take place on the square, and that not only factions of oppositionists knew about this, but also the authorities, defense lawyers are saying that the authorities have decided to take advantage of this matter in order to launch a major political counterattack.

By May 6, 2012 the euphoria that had gripped the protest movement since its emergence in the winter had markedly diminished. The rallies on Bolotnaya Square that had raised tens of thousands who were unhappy at the outcome of the State Duma elections had come and gone and the authorities had even expressed their willingness to liberalize the political system. But for the protesters their chief disappointment was still to come. In March, Vladimir Putin won the presidential election, and the only thing that the opposition leaders were ready and willing to do as regards this matter was to come out onto the streets on May 6, the eve of the inauguration, and to assemble on Bolotnaya Square under the slogan “Don’t Let A Thief Into The Kremlin!” The peaceful rally ended with criminal proceedings as a result of the riot. The defendants in this case number almost 30 people. Many members of the protest movement, Ilya Yashin for example, still say that the battle on the square was started by unidentified masked provocateurs who were members of movements close to the Kremlin. But, as shown by the presented case evidence, which “Kommersant” has managed to see, the fight at Bolotnaya was the result of a delicate game played by the authorities against the opposition leaders, who now appear discredited, and their supporters in the protest movement, who will now think twice about going to rallies – if indeed they ever attend another one at all..

The Grateful Accused

The situation in the protest movement began to heat up when part of the opposition realized that peaceful rallies alone would not change things. The most active proponent of unauthorized action was the leader of the “Left Front”, Sergei Udaltsov. On March 5, 2012, riot police detained him along with Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, because they had refused to leave after a rally on Pushkin Square and, standing in a snow-covered fountain, they defended themselves against the police. Five days later, after a rally on Novy Arbat, Udaltsov was removed from a street substation whilst urging people not to be moved. According to the Investigative Committee of Russia (ICR), before May 6, 2012, the leader of the “Left Front”, together with his associates, Konstantin Lebedev and Leonid Razvozzhaeva, carefully planned not just sit-ins but also massive civil disturbances. The funding of this unrest, according to the ICR, was provided by Georgian politician Givi Targamadze. Investigators say that the clashes were due to start with a breakthrough onto the Great Stone Bridge. At 17:00 on May 6, 2012, the protesters sat down on the roads and said they were not going anywhere until the police cordoning off the square let them go to their scene of action. Then one of the columns tried to break through the cordon.

As is shown by the case evidence, at the time that this was happening, the authorities knew all about the plans that the radicals had made. The fact that a breakthrough was expected was indicated by the positioning of the police cordons. The first unit that the protesters met on the bridge {Translator: In places in this article it is claimed that people were standing “on the bridge”. That is not really the case: the police had cordoned off the bridge proper and it was on the approach road to the bridge in front of the Udarnik cinema where one found oneself after having exited the square and this is where the alleged rioting mostly took place} were members of the 2nd Moscow tactical regiment of the Main Directory of the Ministry of the Interior [ГУ МВД –GU MVD], internal troops and riot police in combat gear who were held in reserve and waiting as a back-up group. Moreover, the closed nature of the square led to there being at one end of it a crush, which the police, after having received information, had taken into consideration. “At the briefing, we were told that unidentified citizens had wanted to camp out on Red Square or in its immediate vicinity (Bolotnaya Square is nearby – “Ъ”) and these citizens would be identified by their carrying a white ribbon on a bag or by their wearing of it on an item of clothing” said interrogation police officer Alexander Gogolev. And despite the fact that Sergei Udaltsov and Ilya Ponomarev unanimously insist that the sit-in at the cinema “Udarnik” began in response to the actions of the police, the criminal proceedings say otherwise. It is the testimony of the Prefecture of the Central Administrative District, members of the Moscow Department of Regional Security and of the Yakimanka District Council that speaks of how, before the rally, they warned Sergei Udaltsov that a sit-in would not be allowed.

The fact that “something was going to happen” on May 6 was apparently known by leaders of the opposition. For example, the following day this entry appeared on Ksenia Sobchak’s blog: “Yesterday I took a very difficult decision: not to go to a rally for the first time since Dec. 24. I made this decision because, to speak frankly, I knew in advance that the main goal would be to take the bridge; to break through the police lines and to stage a sit-in.”

The first defendants in the “Bolotnaya Case” were rank and file participants of the rally and amongst whom police officers who had suffered assault identified their attackers. The initiation of criminal proceedings against the alleged organizers of the riots was decided by investigators last November shortly after the first person to be convicted for involvement in the Bolotnaya affair, Maxim Luzyanin, had been sent to a colony {Translator: An open prison, often wrongly called a “gulag” in the Western press} for 5 years.

A businessman from the Moscow suburbs and a body-builder since his schooldays, Luzyanin became the subject of many Bolotnaya photo reports that showed this huge figure in a black t-shirt strangling a riot policeman. Luzyanin strongly resisted arrest and at first completely denied any wrongdoing. But then the senior investigator for particularly important cases, Mikhail Gurevich, received a letter addressed to him from a remand prison: “I sincerely repent and ask to be questioned about this criminal case. I shall be ready to contribute to the investigation and to cooperate in every way.” After that, many opposition members said that Luzyanin had been a masked agent provocateur and his confession was all part of a cunning ICR plan. In fact, previously convicted for extortion of small traders, Luzyanin had really wholeheartedly turned out at Bolotnaya and judging by his numerous online inquiries, he has long been interested in the personality of Nestor Makhno {Translator: Nestor Ivanovych Makhno: Ukrainian anarcho-communist, revolutionary and commander of an independent anarchist army in the Ukraine during the Russian Civil War}, subscribing to online forums as an anarchist or Makhnoist; after the start of the winter protests he was impressed by Alexei Navalny, whom he considered the most worthy candidate for the presidency.

There then followed in April the conviction and two-year custodial sentence of one of the alleged organizers of the riots, Konstantin Lebedev, who confessed to his guilt, the court having considered his trial as a special case. “After Luzyanin and Lebedev, many spoke of predetermined, sham trials, but legally that simply cannot be the case. It is understandable that the investigation into the arrival at these sentences has been given a certain coloring and they will try to use this in court for propagandistic reasons – but it has nothing to do with the law,” said lawyer Sergei Badamshin of Maria Baronova’s Bolotnaya case, which is going to be dealt with in court.

“It’s just fine here, boys”

The opposition has a different version of what happened: the police deliberately narrowed the approach to where the rally was to take place on Bolotnaya and created a crush, provoking the demonstrators to break through. In the vanguard of the crowd, standing on the bridge , was “Fair Russia” Deputy of the State Duma, Ilya Ponomarev. According to the ICR, with him was a column of anarchists and anti-fascists. The parliamentarian himself [Translator: Ponomarev] does not deny this. The anarchists, investigators believe, were to have been mobilized by Leonid Razvozzhaev, who knew that physically strong young people are used to having street clashes and in case of a confrontation with the police, they are ready to take decisive action, which is unlike and in contrast to the attitude of the pusillanimous middle-classes that make up the bulk of the participants in protest rallies. One source close to the investigators has told “Ъ” that because of the hustle, anarchists and anti-fascists did not realize where the crush of people was heading and that Ilya Ponomarev was standing close at hand when they stumbled into a tightly packed line, a “chain” of police officers. In one of the videos, the deputy pressed against the riot policemen and, with a smile on his face, said to his colleagues: “It’s just fine here, boys! You just need to press a little bit more.” During the interrogation, there was one phrase that interested investigator Alexander Ryabtsev most of all and which was given by the deputy in answer to a question posed by the investigator in order to clarify matters, namely “I wanted those at the head of the column to link arms and then, because of the physical pressure of the crowd, the police would have been shifted.”

“It certainly was a gift. He started yapping so much, even started talking about things that we never asked him about”, said a source close to the investigation during an interview with “Ъ”.

In all likelihood, the opposition plan included the following: A sizable number of police officers had been detailed to watching over Vladimir Putin’s inauguration rehearsal, so theoretically they [Translator: The protesters] would be able to seize the bridge and set up a protest camp. However, they did not take into account a lot of other factors, one of which being the fact that additional police would easily be able to come down Tverskaya Street and could be quickly deployed at Bolotnaya. And all the opposition plans were known in advance by everyone – apart from, that is, the run of the mill protesters.

Ilya Ponomarev insists that the opposition cannot be called into question as regards what happened on May 6. “It was the police that violated the agreed and orderly way that the event would take place: They organized a stampede; they shifted the police ranks, and questions should be asked about this matter. The police have until recently taken steps to prevent any agreed and peaceful form of action”, Ponomarev has told “Ъ”. As regards the sit-down strike staged by the organizers, the Duma Deputy calls it “an attempt to create a cordon between the protesters and the police”. This sit-down strike, according to the deputy, was not originally planned. According to him, it was an “improvisation” for which the activists and protest leaders were not ready. “The organizers did not think of making such a sit-down strike, which is really a minus,” admits the deputy.

Sergey Vlasov, who heads the project “Rosuznik”, which provides legal aid to persons involved in the “Bolotnaya affair,” said before the rally that it was clear that “the government will put a spoke in the wheel, but no one could have imagined the way things turned out”. To “Ъ” he said, “The leaders could protest; they could suggest making a sit-down strike. This form of protest is quite legitimate”. The human rights activist believes that even if the sit-down strike had not been legal, the police, who organized a “bottleneck” at the approach to the area and closed the park, left no chance for the crowd of thousands to protest peacefully.

The head of the department of regional security in Moscow, Alexei Maiorov, said that the organizers of the rally on May 6 had not intended to carry out a peaceful demonstration. “I have always said that if the organizers want to hold an event, they will find ways of doing this. We performed all our duties on 6 May, but as we now can see, a certain group of people was really prepared for provocation, which resulted in a conflict with the police,” he told “Ъ.”

A Controlled Explosion

Another question: Why did the authorities, who knew in advance about the upcoming unauthorized actions, not prevent them? Lawyer Sergei Badamshin believes that this was done deliberately. “The authorities actually provoked a controlled explosion, which spilled over into a brawl with the police, and which had nothing to do with the riots and has allowed them to lever great pressure onto the opposition. There are now dozens of people who are scared of going to rallies” he argues.

The “Bolotnaya Affair” gave the government an excellent opportunity for revenge over the surprise they had with the winter street protests and it was the starting point for a large-scale counter-attack by both the administration and the judiciary. Already in June 2012, on the eve of a protest march of many thousands, there were adopted amendments to the law “On Meetings” that significantly tightened the laws concerning street protest organization. Since then, many opposition leaders have been fined a few hundred thousand [rubles]. According to the organization “OVD-info” [Translator: OVD – Оrgan of Internal Affairs (органы внутренних дел); OVD-info is a human rights NGO] , which was engaged in 2012 in Moscow and the Moscow region in monitoring pressure on activists, about 4 thousand were apprehended. The vast majority of those held as a result of the new law “On Meetings” were fined amounts of between 10 thousand to 30 thousand rubles. Then on the TV channels NTV and “Russia,” one after another there began to appear “incriminating” stories concerning the opposition, which, according to director of the Center for Political Technologies, Alexei Makarkin, also took their toll. “The authorities have tried to show that the protesters at Bolotnaya are enemies and provocateurs sponsored from abroad. In many ways they were able to influence the undecided, who believe what they see on TV, and who have begun to treat the protesters and opposition leaders with disparagement and are firmly of the opinion that it is unnecessary to have rallies” he said. Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky says the opposition has been defeated, but believes that those who had previously took part in Bolotnaya rallies were unlikely to cease participating at meetings, but that new faces in the protest movement would, most likely, no longer appear.

With the excitement of the “Bolotnaya Affair” the authorities have gained an effective tool for imposing direct pressure on the opposition. “In fact, there still remain several dozens of people whom the investigation plans to take into custody, but the authorities will only do this in small doses – one person every week or two- so as to keep the activists on tenterhooks”, said Sergey Vlasov from “Rosuznika. His predictions are, for the time being, coming true. In early May they arrested the well known anti-fascist movement activist, Alexei Gaskarov, whom the investigators believe to be one of the coordinators of disorder on the square, and investigators yesterday raided and detained for questioning as a witness the coordinator of the Moscow branch of the “Left Front”, Vasily Kuzmin.


  1. yalensis says:

    This seems like a good place to post the following links:

    5+ hours of the Minaev video showing the entire Bolotnaya demonstration carried live.

    Analysis of the Minaev video in a 3-part post from a blogger named zbaza, “How Hamsters were turned into Sheep”: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

    zbaza’s basic assertion is this:

    The event organizers (Navalny, Udal’tsov, Nemtsov, Yashin, and others) planned a provocation. They waited until a mass of participants was waiting at the stage for the speeches to begin. They delayed their own arrival by moving slowly on the bridge. Then they suddenly (at 2:18 in from beginning of Minaev tape) sat down and declared a “sit-down strike”. “We will sit here until our demands are met.” In reality, they only sat there for around 4 minutes, then sneaked away, in the mayhem.

    At this very moment, through logistical synchronization, another set of organizers at the sound stage area, including Mark Feigin and others, relayed misinformation to the crowd waiting there to hear the speeches, to the effect that Navalny and the others were being detained by the police and prevented from coming to the stage. This enraged the crowd who then attempted to march backwards to the aid of their comrades. They surged back, knocking down the metal detectors, and into collision with the police.

    Meanwhile, back on the “Udarnik” bridge-entry bottleneck, Ponomarev was egging people on to break through the police lines.

    After the clash began with the police, Ponomarev, Navalny, Udal’tsov, Nemtsov, and the other tactical leaders abandoned their troops, somehow slipped away in the fog of war, and managed to sneak to the stage area. Police didn’t stop them because they were walking in the “correct” direction.

    After the big leaders had egressed from the “bottleneck” area, other tactical operatives overturned the porto-potties, creating a disgusting barricade that people couldn’t walk through without ruining their shoes. This trapped the regular people in the bottleneck but didn’t prevent the OMON (who wear boots) from moving around nabbing people.

    Meanwhile, Udal’tsov had made it back to the sound stage and was warming up the loudspeakers, his vocal chords, and the crowd. Then he was arrested.

    At the moment that Udal’tsov was being frog-marched away, Navalny arrived at the stage, ready to deliver his own speech. But he was arrested before he had a chance, however, he got the opportunity to show the world his “plumber’s ass” as he was being hauled away by OMON, all the while shrieking like a little girl: “Ow! Ow! You’re breaking my arm!”

    Meanwhile, Boris Nemtsov had to climb up on the television camera scaffold and practically beg the OMON to arrest him.

    But all this is well known. Everybody knows how Sobchak admitted that she knew in advance that a provocation was to be organized via a “sit-down strike” on the bridge.

    The new bit is the video proof that the so-called “eternal sit down strike” lasted no more than 4 minutes, and then its leaders snuck away, deserting their troops and heading in the correct direction towards the sound stage.

    Meanwhile, we also know from Lebedev’s confessions that Givi Targamadze provided operative and tactical leadership for the event, even though he was not personally present. Givi literally phoned it in.