On January 13, 2011, an anonymous member of the Moscow OMON opened a Twitter account and began regularly posting opinions and factoids related to police work in Russia’s capital city. That Twitter account now has almost 3,000 followers, and the user himself is following 178 other tweeters — most of them high-profile RuNet bloggers. In what is an increasingly ordinary miracle of the 21st century, this faceless, nameless Internet presence managed to become a big enough sensation that Ekho Moskvy chief editor Alexei Venediktov took notice and offered to repost the results of a public Q&A that OMON_Moscow started on February 2nd. Using a LiveJournal account created parallel to the Twitter profile, Mr. OMON solicited readers for any questions they might ever in life have wanted to put to a real, live Moscow cop. He received almost 500 questions in less than two weeks, with thousands more to follow. They ranged from polite and genuinely curious to insulting and didactic. He answered all kinds.
On January 17th, Zhanna Ozhimina, press secretary for the Moscow OMON, confirmed at a press conference that the author behind the OMON_Moscow blog and microblog is indeed an OMONovets. She refused to identify the officer, saying that the blog was unofficial, and explained that “we can’t forbid the person from having a blog on Twitter if it’s no hindrance to him carrying out his work and as long as he’s not revealing official state secrets.” Roughly a month later, Oleg Kozlovsky blogged to say essentially that he believes OMON_Moscow is the genuine work of a single individual, though he expressed suspicions about the “atypical” intellectualism and professional pride of the author. Kozlovsky doesn’t mention Ozhimina’s statement, so it can be inferred that he either dismissed it as untrustworthy PR, or he simply didn’t know about it. In any event, he concludes his post by saying, “I don’t think this is some kind of hired promoter or Nashist or someone’s sock-puppet. By all appearances, omon_moscow really is a member of the OMON.”
While debating this man’s true identity has busied most commentators, I’d like instead to focus on why he decided to take up blogging in the first place. It’s an interesting question because, when reading over his responses to the public’s questions, one realizes that this person hit the airwaves largely in order to argue against the police portrayal (re)popularized by a scandalous story (based on anonymous sources) published by The New Times in February last year, titled “Slaves of the OMON,” by Ilya Barabanov and Nikita Aronov. (An English language translation of “Slaves” can be found here in PDF.) Thanks to this article, Barabanov was selected for the 2010 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. Last November, a Moscow court sided with the GUVD and two OMON officers, convicting The New Times of defamation. Barabanov promised to file an appeal, though I can find no evidence that this ever happened.
“Slaves of the OMON” reveals the illegal underbelly of Moscow’s special police force, detailing racketeering schemes, private security work performed on the side, the politicization of law and order, and a host of other indecencies and illegalities.
OMON_Moscow’s Q&A experiment proved to be an opportunity for the blogger to ‘set the record straight’ as he sees it. The “Slaves of the OMON” hot button issues are all present: outside income as a private security provider, police measures employed against liberal protesters, political indoctrination of the police, and police protection rackets. Along with some purely curious responses to questions about gay rights and ethnic relations, I have translated OMON_Moscow’s replies to questions relating to the “Slaves of the OMON” controversy.
While the fact that this blogging activity is tolerated by the police force likely constitutes evidence that the top brass endorses the spirit and content of OMON_Moscow, this blogging project remains fascinating as the initiative of one scorned cop, driven to action by an apparent dissatisfaction with the common perception of who he is and what he does. While the author’s claims and observations should be received with caution, the energy and experience with which he offers them merit our attention and our interest at the very least.
On salaries and benefits:
The salary comes from two main sources: pay for one’s post and rank, and a bonus from the mayor of Moscow (also called “Luzhkov’s bonus” or “the mayor’s bonus”).
In total, it comes to between 26 and 27 thousand rubles [900-936 USD] and higher. Everything depends on rank and post. There are also quarterly bonuses (usually about 3 thousand rubles [100 USD]) and end-of-year bonuses (usually about 10 thousand rubles [347 USD]). Sometimes, after May 9th [Victory Day] or New Years, they give out one-time bonuses for about 4-5 thousand rubles [139-173 USD], though this isn’t always and it isn’t for everyone. Such bonuses are distributed by the commander of a division (a battalion commander, for instance). You don’t get supplemental pay for detaining Limonov of Nemtsov. For detaining armed criminals or participating in a counter-terrorist operation, you could be put forward for a decoration.
On being ashamed about the way police treat protesters:
For starters, I’d like to remind everyone that there’s such a thing as “the Fundamentals of State and Law.” It’s studied in law schools, and using the Internet you can download a textbook and read all about the state and its characteristics. One feature that describes any state is “the availability of coercive means to the governing authorities. This means the special groups of armed persons: the army, police, intelligence, and correctional facilities like prisons, camps, and so on.” Furthermore, in any society there are divisions of social strata and groups: the poor and the rich, the intelligent and the not. Whether it’s [called] the militia or the police, as with the judicial system, it turns out that every country has one in some form. And social stratification is everywhere, too. The police in Greece, France, Spain, and even in the US also break up demonstrations.
I sincerely doubt that they do it so that some oligarchic elite can hold onto power. Or do you like mass unrest? I’m asked how I feel about the possibility that my relatives could be among the demonstrators. I answer that my relatives never attend rallies like the ones held at Manezh or [Triumfal'naia]. And I ask them a rhetorical question myself: how would you feel if the demonstrators set fire to your car or your apartment? How do you respond to reports that museums and stores were robbed in Cairo? Or that hundreds of cars were burned in Paris, and bank offices in Athens were vandalized?
While we haven’t used nightsticks at the Strategy 31 rallies, we do keep them in reserve. We only disperse riots with nightsticks when they resemble Manezh — when a crowd is fighting with stones and metal objects, pulling up pillars and launching flaming projectiles at us or at each another. At Strategy 31 rallies, there are the occasional provocations. Some people there like to show off for the cameras when they’re detained, and later on the Internet they cry out about how they were dragged to the torture chamber by the bloody KGB.
I’m fine with today’s authorities.
But sometimes I recall how much my relatives and I earned working for the state back when Nemtsov was First Deputy Prime Minister, and how many months they could delay paying us our wages. Sometimes I try to understand for what exactly Kasyanov is called “Misha Two-Percent”…. There will always be authorities, just as there will always be malcontents. Any country in the world has an opposition, with the exceptions perhaps of North Korea and Iran. (Though, Iran does have its own “dissenters”….)
But in order to thoroughly calm the public, I’ll say about myself that I personally have not beat a demonstrator with a nightstick, so I feel that I can’t answer [questions about how such violence makes one feel] at this time.
On homosexuals ["the sexual minorities"]:
Personally, I’m entirely neutral.
There are plenty of talented people among the sexual minorities. Composers, musicians, poets, directors, designers — this list could go on and on. Propagandizing homosexuality is certainly out, but neither is it right to mess with someone just because he’s of a different sexual orientation. Indeed, in my private life, I know a couple that belongs to the sexual minorities. They are very intelligent people, with whom it’s always interesting to chat and who give excellent advice about theater performances and art exhibits.
However, I’m categorically against pedophiles. Such people either should be in jail for their entire lives, or they should spend the rest of their days committed in the nuthouse. IMHO.
On why he joined the OMON:
I went to work for the OMON because I wanted to change the country for the better. In order to change anything, you’ve got to start with yourself. So, I decided to give it a shot, and I did okay. I’ve been in the service ever since.
On why OMONovtsy hide their faces behind masks:
In addition to dealing with mentally ill people (like the author of this particular question [who asked in very insulting language]), we also work with the straight-up criminal element. Some investigators, with whom we’ve worked while wearing our masks, have received threats after a case at their homes and the homes of their relatives. Afterwards, they’ve been assigned police protection. Generally speaking, the practice of special police forces wearing masks occurs throughout the world. Even in the democratic USA and Europe, SWAT police operate in masks. Unlike my compatriots who live in a fantasy world, we see a bit more of the bad guys. And we don’t just see them: we capture them. That’s why we’ve worked in masks, and will continue to work that way in the future. After the enactment of the Law on the Police, we’ll possibly work with [badge] numbers, too. Only, where is the guarantee that — for some laughable price in foreign currency — private information about cops’ [badge] numbers and families won’t “leak” out [to those interested]?
On this subject, people have asked about the “Pearl Officer” [Vadim Boiko], and announced with delight that he was beaten.
Well, what can I say? Officer Boiko’s actions were reviewed by the prosecutor. Personally, I think he was out of line and should be prosecuted. But then there are citizens who think he shouldn’t be prosecuted, and would prefer to ambush him outside his home and bash him over the head with a pipe. Are these people citizen-heroes? Why of course they are — they smashed up a cop. But consider the following hypothetical situation: some lady is detained at a Triumfal’naia Square rally, and, in the detention van, she offends the police officer, insults his parents, spits on him, and smacks him with her cane. The policeman later looks up the address of this woman in the official records, and days later meets her one evening as the sun sets outside her home and cracks her over the head with a pipe. Who is this police officer? That’s right — he’s a criminal.
Perhaps it’s best to let the prosecutor and judge sort out the “Pearl Officer”?
On whether or not OMONovtsy receive political indoctrination [politinformatsiia] from supervisors before a major operation:
There have been lots of questions along the lines of political indoctrination [politinformatsiia]. People ask what they tell us about Nemtsov and Limonov. Do they tell us that the people who come out for these rallies are whores, bought by the West? Do they scare us behind the scenes?
I’m afraid I must disappoint.
Nobody gives any secret orders before rallies. Political indoctrination is now called “lessons in nationwide training.” In a unit, they’ll sometimes post copies of Rossiiskaia Gazeta, with the President’s address to the Federal Assembly, for instance, or with the draft legislation of the Law on the Police. Occasionally they’ll post an interview with the head of the GUVD or the MVD that’s appeared in the central mass media. As for rousing ideological pep talks, there aren’t any. Before demonstrations, they just say what kind of event it is, whether or not it’s sanctioned, and who might attend. It’s nothing like you see in the movie “Obitaemyi Ostrov,” where a chorus of guys foam at the mouth and scream about how they hate the whore-oppositionists. It’s not like that with us at all.
However, at the end of each of our briefings, they tell us that we must be cultured and respectful in our work with civilians.
During briefings, by the way, they also share dispatches and leads about criminals that have struck in the last few days. Officers have to record these leads in a service book. Otherwise, an officer suddenly forgets that “an unidentified man in dark clothes robbed Citizen N of his phone and fled.” If an officer doesn’t have this written in his service book, I doubt he’d be able to catch the “unidentified man in dark clothes” and apprehend him. But if it is written down, the villain will never get away. Something like that…
On how many of the Moscow OMON officers are Muscovites or non-natives:
I don’t have the exact statistics, but in my subjective opinion I’d say non-natives make up about seventy percent. Lots of them came to Moscow a long time ago, and now their children, having been born in Moscow, go to schools and colleges here. In what category do you put these people? Are they Muscovites or not? For them, Moscow has become their home. If you count such people as Muscovites, then the percentage of natives might be higher.
On shooting into an unarmed crowd of demonstrators:
Use of our weapons is strictly regulated by police operating procedures. There’s nothing in there about opening fire on demonstrators — I just checked again. So shooting into demonstrators raises a host of questions for the agency that oversees the police: the prosecutor’s office. But demonstrating civilians are one thing, and participants in a mass riot are something else. My compatriots often confuse A with B, and would like to indulge in wishful thinking. Participants in dissident rallies, participants in group disturbances of the peace, and participants in mass riots — these are all entirely different categories of civilians. Moreover, [the police's] responsibility for them is different.
Now, if civilians go to the Government House, then we’ll have to shoot them without a doubt. That’s how it’s always done.
For example, after the rally at Triumfal’naia Square in October last year, a group of demonstrators marched down the Garden Ring on the side of the Krasnopresnenskaia Embankment toward the Government House. OMON officers shot them all. Then they brought their dead bodies back to base and boiled them in a soup. The media is just afraid to talk about this, otherwise the OMON will be making soup out of journalists, yessiree.
On the political leanings of OMON officers and whether or not their bosses pressure them to vote in a certain way:
OMON officers probably do have political convictions — it’s just that we don’t discuss it between ourselves. Nobody trots round how he personally votes. And no one gives us any kind of voting recommendations. Every man votes how he wants. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of our officers simply don’t vote and pursue more practical uses of their spare time. Personally, I voted in the last elections just as the polls were closing, once I’d decided everything for myself. I voted for the candidate that seemed most sensible to me personally. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it to the Moscow city hall.
On the threshold for using rubber bullets and other non-leathal means to disperse crowds:
All situations that permit the use of [tear] gas, water canons, and flash grenades are listed in the police code, in an article titled “Using Special Means.” So far in Moscow, there’s been no use of water canons, rubber bullets, or tear gas against mass demonstrations. The threshold for their use is high enough, as they can cause serious injury.
On what OMON officers think about the December 11th events at Manezh Square outside the Kremlin:
Opinions differ. I’ll share my own.
I’m categorically opposed to holding lezginki [a Caucasian dance] on Manezh Square, and I’m against the idea of Caucasian immigrants behaving obnoxiously in the center of the city.
I’m opposed to obnoxious behavior in general, and Caucasians and thugs from the regions [outside Moscow] should behave civilly. I don’t believe anyone can drive his SUV into Aleksandrovskii Garden to show off that he’s some cool son of a rich daddy. And nobody can ride his blue-sirened SUV into college or into a night club.
I think the police at Kitai Gorod should never have released those suspects simply because certain people showed up and said that they needed to let the kids go.
I’ll offer a rough guess as to why this happens at police stations. Personally speaking, I was once shown the business card of a police colonel, who served in the Ministry at Zitnaia. Clearly, I was supposed to release the “bearer of this card” immediately. But the thing didn’t make much of an impression on me. Maybe it would have on someone else. And it’s this impunity that is the reason for such behavior among young people. But, at the same time, I’m also categorically opposed to our homegrown nationalists beating up everyone that crosses their path whose appearance or passport says they’re not 100% Slavic.
For example, among the teenagers who suffered beatings at Manezh were two of my friends. One was an Armenian and the other an Azeri. For those who don’t understand, I’ll explain: friendship between an Armenian and an Azeri is as rare as between a suicide bomber and an Israeli — such is the mutual antagonism between these nationalities. The teens were beaten because they attended the birthday party of their own friend (a Slav, by the way). They beat up Russians, too, who were at McDonalds with them. When they beat them, they chanted a slogan in which they suggested that all immigrants, to put it gently, get out.
Well … I don’t believe a conductor like Geriev, surgeons like Bokeriia and Khubutiia, a director like Bakambetov, and many other people of non-Slavic origin should get out of Russia. You can’t blame Caucasians for all the crimes. For instance, in Kushchevskaya they were all Slavs. It’s just like labeling someone a skinhead because he smacks a Caucasian for acting like a jackass.
I’m for rigorous observation of the laws and the generally accepted rules of politeness. For example, in the Islamist Republic of Iran, there’s a city called Busher. There, Russian specialists are building a nuclear power station. The construction workers and energy experts live there with their families. Now, the country is Muslim, so the women have to go around in veils and they don’t wear miniskirts. And the men only drink alcohol at home, if at all, and they don’t wander through the streets drunk. Everyone behaves well and everyone is satisfied. I’m for what they call “zero tolerance,” where everyone is equal. And I’m categorically against Nazi ideas.
Now, concerning the actual events on Manezh Square on December 11th, I’ve come to the opinion that there weren’t too many actual soccer fans there — not considering the degree to which they were organized. At Leningrad [Highway] a few days before this, the real soccer fans came out. They didn’t start a fight, and calmly talked with [police] leaders. After less than a minute, they left the street and returned to the sidewalk [as police requested]. There was no fight. We didn’t need it, and neither did they.
In the crowd at Manezh, representatives of [Limonov's] Nationalist Bolsheviks somehow popped up. For example, currently detained is Mr. Bereziuk, a citizen of Belarus. Bereziuk regularly appeared at Triumfal’naia Square: sometimes as a security guard for Limonov, sometimes as a security guard for Alekseeva (after she was hit in the head at ‘Park Kul’tury’). There’s December 11th footage where it’s obvious how Bereziuk winds up the crowd, running out and attacking the police. Is he a soccer fan? No. To mourn Egor Sviridov’s death, youth [groups] decided to gather at Kronshtadtskii Boulevard. A day before the rally, it was announced that representatives from the Yabloko Party had been sanctioned to gather there, and that Sergei Mitrokhin would be attending. Is he the biggest soccer fan? Not likely. All this suggests that they’re simply trying to use young people for political purposes. And then again, maybe I’m wrong. But accusing the OMON of standing with the nationalists or alleging the opposite (that they sold out to the non-Russians) is probably also a lost cause.
On whether or not OMONovtsy hire themselves out as private security for extra income:
The question goes back to the famous article “Slaves of the OMON.” In the time that I’ve served, I haven’t seen the things described in that publication. Possibly — and I draw your attention to the word “possibly” — that sort of thing happened in the 90s. But now it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist for a simple reason: before a police officer could carry his weapon at all times. Now it’s very hard, if not impossible, to arrange [such permission]. And who needs a security guard that doesn’t have his gun? How is he going to protect his client? Is he going to pummel villains with his fists? Or is he going to holster an air gun as a bluff?
Businessmen who pay people money want to get the most bang for their buck. They know how to count money and understand perfectly well that it’s much better to officially hire private security guards than pay a cop, who’s under the control of the internal security directorate [the USB], the prosecutor general, inspection personnel, and direct supervisors.
I also can’t quite imagine how [the OMON] could “protect” [kryshevat'] kiosks and prostitutes. The OMON doesn’t conduct investigations and it doesn’t assist in the development of “lady of the night” business or help people escape paying taxes. So I’d say paying for this kind of “protection” is entirely pointless. The facts laid out in that article ["Slaves of the OMON"] are very hard to verify in any documents. One of the interviewees afterwards stated that he hadn’t said what was reported. A few of the signatures, written in clumsy handwriting and addressed to the President, turned out to be fakes and this was proved by graphology experts. There was a suit filed by the commander of the battalion and the verdict went against the publisher ["the New Times"] of the article in question. I understand that an appeal has been filed against this decision.
If moonlighting as a security guard was common practice, I might do it in order to boost my family’s budget. But, alas, there’s no such freelancing to be had.
On whether or not demonstrators are required to obtain the local authorities’ permission for a rally in order for it to be legal: [Included to demonstrate the blogger's tendency to avoid answering certain questions, particularly anything legally (not administratively) nuanced.]
It seems to me that such questions are answered by the Constitutional Court. Why don’t you submit an official inquiry to them? In jurisprudence, there are many “undercurrents” that I simply don’t know. But the judges of the Constitutional Court certainly know. So this question is better addressed to them.