20 years under Putin: a timeline

On July 24, two activists from the Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhaev, were found guilty of organizing mass disorder on May 6, 2012. The defendants in this politically motivated case were sentenced to terms of 4.5 years each. Julia Polukhina, the Novaya Gazeta correspondent who covered this trial, summarizes the results of the latest episode of the Bolotnaya cases specially for IMR.


Sergei Udaltsov (right) and Leonid Razvozzhayev are being read the verdict at the Moscow District Court. Photo: Kommersant.


Three judges took turns reading their decision for as long as nine hours. Throughout the whole nine hours, the attendants were forced to listen while standing upright. At one point, the judge, Alexander Zamashnyuk, demanded that an invalid woman who was suffering from standing for so long be withdrawn, stating, “A court is no place for invalids.” There were 26 guards present in the courtroom, some of them with automatic weapons. The trial sessions started on February 18, 2014, and lasted for more than six months. Ultimately, the process left no hope for Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhaev to be exonerated. The judges were set strongly against the accused from the very beginning. Crown witnesses were mostly employees of law enforcement and representatives of Moscow’s government and community services. When defense lawyers asked them what exactly the witnesses meant by “mass disorder,” the court immediately rejected the question as unacceptable. Zamashnyuk’s position was very clear: “Mass disorder is a matter of common knowledge.”

Both the court and the prosecution identified the most telling sign of mass disorder: multiple injuries received by policemen. But most of the victims had only bruises, and no medical documentation of further injury was presented as proof in court. When lawyers asked the policemen whether they had visited a doctor about the bodily injuries they had received on May 6, 2012, Zamashnyuk noted in a philosophical manner that “no person could understand another man’s pain.” And when the defense lawyers tried to argue, the judge responded by reading out the principals of advocatory ethics to them. Leonid Razvozzhaev often complained about being taken to the SIZO (the pre-trial detention isolation chamber) at midnight and being risen as early as 6 a.m., because his lack of sleep harmed his capacity to understand what was going on and thus left him no opportunity to defend himself. The court offered no reaction to Razvozzhaev’s appeals. Sergei Udaltsov suffered from an open gastric ulcer and couldn’t be present in court because of the pain—a diagnosis officially confirmed by the medics who examined him at home. Udaltsov had a prescription to domestic regimen, but the court claimed that this was an attempt to draw out the trial and insisted on bringing the defendant to court.

Such an attitude toward people whose guilt had not yet been proven was a clear sign that both defendants would receive substantial sentences. On July 24, the day the verdict was announced, Udaltsov brought his belongings to court with him: he knew very well that he would be taken to the SIZO after the trial. There were no illusions and only one question remaining: What would be the term of the sentence? After the sentence was handed down—4.5 years in a penal colony—Udaltsov announced the beginning of a termless hunger strike.

This politically motivated process showed that despite considerable internal conflicts in Russia today, which were especially notable during the Ukrainian crisis, the struggle for fair and unprejudiced justice remains an important issue that unites the Russian opposition

The evidence of guilt provided in the court’s decision can be broken into two main categories. The first consists of the testimony of the victims—the policemen who claim that they saw aggressive people organizing mass disorder in Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012, and Udaltsov using a megaphone to call for a sit-down strike. The policemen also claim to have seen Razvozzhaev lead a group of anarchists and organize a breakthrough into a police circle in order to storm the Kremlin; they further claim to have seen him setting up tents in Bolotnaya Square.

The second group of evidence concerns a meeting between Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev and the Georgian politician Giorgi Targamadze, an ally of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. This meeting took place in Belarus a long time after the events in Bolotnaya Square. According to the prosecution, at that meeting, the men discussed further preparations for mass disorder and its sponsorship by the Georgians. Although this story was drawn from Anatomy of a Protest2, a documentary made by the television company NTV, no record of its source is present in the documents of the criminal case—only an edited video record with an applied audio track. The defendants didn’t admit that a meeting really happened, just as they didn’t admit their guilt on any of the charges. The court criticized much of the evidence offered by the defense’s witnesses, although this group included members of Parliament, leaders of political parties, and public activists.

Still, this politically motivated process showed that despite considerable internal conflicts in Russia today, which were especially notable during the Ukrainian crisis, the struggle for fair and unprejudiced justice remains an important issue that unites the Russian opposition. This issue is vitally important, since the list of politicians and civil activists who are being pursued by the law for a variety of made-up reasons that are in fact political is constantly growing. Consequently, the recent statement by Vladimir Putin that struggle against the organizers of “color revolutions” remains a priority in ensuring Russia’s security highlights the increasing power of this trend.