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Commission: Kremlin Pre-Planned Moscow ‘Riots’

On May 6, 2012, some 60,000 people marched through downtown Moscow to Bolotnaya Square to protest the inauguration of Vladimir Putin, “elected” to a de facto fourth term in office in a vote that international monitors assessed as not fair. The march had been officially sanctioned by City Hall, and nobody expected anything other than a peaceful rally—just like the ones in December 2011 and February 2012.

But as the protesters approached Bolotnaya, they were met by thousands of armed riot police who had blocked parts of the square, hindering access and creating an artificial stampede. According to the Kremlin’s version, what happened next were “mass riots” by demonstrators who attacked and assaulted police officers. Sixteen people are currently behind bars on this charge; 11 more have been indicted.

On Monday, an independent public commission, whose members included Academician Yuri Ryzhov, Higher School of Economics Supervisor Yevgeni Yasin, writer Vladimir Voinovich, film directors Andrei Smirnov and Vladimir Mirzoyev, human rights activists Natalia Gorbanevskaya and Valery Borshchev, and several other highly respected figures, completed its own investigation into the May 6th events. The commission had sat through hours of video recordings, watched hundreds of photographs, and reviewed the evidence from some 600 eyewitnesses. Its principal conclusion was that the “riots” on Bolotnaya Square were deliberately staged by the authorities in order to create a pretext for the subsequent crackdown on the opposition.

“The Russian government has decided that it can only stay in power by completely suppressing the protests, with any means possible and without the limitations of the law,” reads the commission’s final report. “The so-called ‘breach’ [of police lines] was the result of a preplanned large-scale provocation by law-enforcement bodies.”

Minute by minute, the reports details the events of May 6, 2012. More than 12,800 police officers—some flown to Moscow from as far away as the Mari El and Yakutia—were occupying the center of the Russian capital. The order to begin the arrests was given before the first lines of demonstrators had reached Bolotnaya Square from Bolshaya Yakimanka Street. The authorities unilaterally amended the agreed-upon route of the march, significantly narrowing the entrance to the square and causing panic in the crowd. The attacks on the police were carried out by groups of provocateurs, their faces covered in black masks, who were not being detained despite their aggressive behavior; the report states that they were showing police officers some kind of identification papers. During the dispersal of the rally, the report continues, the police used “totally inappropriate, excessive” force against peaceful demonstrators, including the elderly and people with children. More than 600 participants were detained.

The May 6th “riots” on Bolotnaya were used by the Kremlin as a pretext not only for the arrests and the upcoming show trials of opposition activists, but also for a slate of repressive laws signed by Putin in 2012.

On May 6th of this year, on the first anniversary of the crackdown, Muscovites will come to the same spot to demand justice for the political prisoners of Bolotnaya—and for all political prisoners held in Russian jails. “One by one, the regime can strangle us,” said opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, “But it will retreat if it sees that tens of thousands of people are once again participating in the protests.” “If there are many people [on Bolotnaya Square on May 6th],” he added, “we will be able to free not only the Bolotnaya prisoners, but also the country.”

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