20 years under Putin: a timeline

The Institute of Modern Russia continues its series of publications on Russia’s political prisoners with the portrait of Mikhail Kosenko, an activist and a defendant of the Bolotnoye case. He was sentenced to forced psychiatric treatment; the court decision is to be appealed on March 25, 2014.


Full Name: Mikhail Aleksandrovich Kosenko

Date of Birth: July 8, 1975

Arrested on June 8, 2012 on the charges of participating in the “mass riots” on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012 and “threatening the life or health of a representative of authority.” Sentenced to forced psychiatric treatment.


Mikhail Kosenko, a Russian activist who has a registered second-degree disability, was arrested on June 8, 2012. He was charged with participating in the “mass riots” on Bolotnaya Square that occurred on May 6, 2012, as well as with using force—threatening the life or health—of a representative of authority. According to investigators, while confronting the police, Kosenko, acting as part of a group of unidentified individuals, punched and kicked Alexander Kazmin, an officer of Russia’s OMON (Special Purpose Mobile Unit) riot police, at least two times.

Kosenko’s case was investigated separately from other Bolotnaya Square cases because of the investigators’ request for his forced psychiatric treatment. A psychiatric evaluation determined that that he was “dangerous for himself and others.” While serving in the military in the late 1990s, Kosenko suffered a concussion, and later, for over twelve years, received treatment at a psycho-neurological clinic. All procedures, however, were delivered on an outpatient basis—there was no need for hospitalization. During the trial investigation, Kosenko was diagnosed by the Serbsky State Scientific Center for Social and Forensic Psychiatry with a “chronic psychiatric disorder in the form of paranoid schizophrenia.” The defense’s request for a new evaluation was rejected.

Commenting on the results of the center’s psychiatric evaluation, Russian psychiatrist and artist Andrey Bilzho said that the evaluation was of very poor quality. “With this diagnosis, this single psychiatric story, they spelled the death of psychiatry,” Bilzho stated in an interview with the news channel TV Rain. In the same vein, Yuriy Savenko, president of Russia’s Independent Psychiatric Association, called the decision “outrageous.” According to Savenko, “based on a single examination of someone experiencing very stressful events,” Kosenko’s existing diagnosis was changed to paranoia. He pointed out, “Psychiatry is the most convenient way to save a case when it collapses.”

For a number of human rights advocates, experts, and public persons, this decision was by no means “a humanitarian act,” but rather a signal that “the Soviet practice of punitive psychiatry was returning.”

In October 2012, Mikhail Kosenko’s case was sent to court. He did not plead guilty, insisting that the disturbances on Bolotnaya Square had been instigated by the riot police and that he had not beaten the police officer. Defense witnesses confirmed Kosenko’s testimony. For example, Dmitriy Borko, who served as a public defender in the Bolotnaya case, argued that the video presented by the defense clearly showed that Kosenko had not participated in the fight, and that “he was approximately five meters away from the point where the fight occurred.”

Witnesses present on Bolotnaya Square the day of the protests also maintained that Kosenko was not guilty. Oleg Orlov from the human rights organization Memorial, who was standing with Kosenko at the time when the fight broke out, said that Kosenko “neither punched nor kicked [the officer].” When those participating in the fight fell near them, Orlov said, “The only movement he made was swinging his arms.” Moreover, Kazmin, the riot police officer injured during the fight, said that he did not know the defendant and that neither during the fight nor on the video had he seen “a person wearing a red shirt” (presumably Kosenko) beat him: “he was just standing nearby.” The only witness for the prosecution who allegedly recognized Kosenko was another police officer, Sergei Lukyanov. According to Kosenko’s sister Ksenia, Lukyanov gave a series of confusing statements during the trial, and when asked what actions of Kosenko’s he had witnessed, he answered, “moving his arms toward Kazmin.”

The lawsuit lasted for almost a year. Unsurprisingly to many, in October 2013, Kosenko was found guilty. The judge also supported the investigators’ insistence that Kosenko undergo forced psychiatric treatment. The decision sparked a public outcry: for a number of human rights advocates, experts, and public persons, this decision was by no means “a humanitarian act,” but rather a signal that “the Soviet practice of punitive psychiatry was returning.” Both psychiatrists and non-experts have spoken out in defense of Kosenko’s mental competence.



While in detention, Mikhail Kosenko demonstrated good behavior. He has also proven himself capable of coping with highly stressful situations: when his mother died, he was prevented by the court from attending her funeral due to his “mental condition”; and for a long period of time, he was not allowed visitations by his sister, who has been not only his closest companion during this time, but also a legal representative. Dmitriy Borko reported to IMR that during the trial, Kosenko demonstrated self-control and calmness. According to Borko, “Kosenko is a well-educated and sensible man. He is capable of thinking conceptually and constructively.” Many acquaintances and observers attest that despite suffering from mental issues, he is “fully mentally competent.” Those who have not followed Mikhail Kosenko’s case and do not know him will likely come to the same conclusion after reading his final statement in court.

On March 25, 2014, Kosenko’s sentence will be appealed in the Moscow City court.