20 years under Putin: a timeline

On August 18, 2014, the Moscow City Court convicted four defendants in the “second wave” of the Bolotnaya Square case. Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin each received three and a half years in prison colonies; Ilya Gushchin received two and a half years of imprisonment; and Elena Kokhtareva, who pled guilty, was sentenced to three years and three months suspended. In a special article for IMR, social defender and journalist Dmitry Borko summarizes the results of this politically motivated criminal case.


From left to right: Ilya Gushchin, Alexander Margolin and Alexey Gaskarov listen to the verdict at the Moscow District Court. Photo: ITAR-TASS.


The most recent trial of the Bolotnaya Square case brought yet another guilty verdict for four participants of the mass protest at Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012. Alexei Gaskarov, Alexander Margolin, Ilya Gushchin, and Elena Kokhtareva were arrested a year after the event as part of the so-called “second wave” of the Bolotnaya case.

This most recent episode in the process of the Bolotnaya case was a banality in every way:

A historical banality—because this process started as an alarming sign of the upcoming change, and now it is coming to an end, marking the turning point of the Russian history and dispelling the hope for the country’s social transformation.

A legal banality—because previous trials of the Bolotnaya case defendants (the Kosenko trial, the “Case of the Twelve,” the Udaltsov-Razvozzhaev case) have already shown that the law is not to be counted upon. For this reason, during the last trial, people were less concerned with the legal aspects of the case than with the length of the sentences.

A moral banality—because despite the obvious futility of any efforts to impact the outcome of the trial, it was necessary to participate in the process or at least to react to it in some way. This is why I keep on taking notes and observing the details of each case, remembering and assessing everything—for the future.

Before the trial began, the defense lawyers assumed that the prosecution had learned from its blatantly talentless work during the previous trials of the Bolotnaya case, and that it would try to change its strategy and the composition of its offense, making it more specific and evidential. But the differences between the previous style of prosecution and the most recent one were hardly noticeable. The charges seemed copied and pasted from the “first wave” of the Bolotnaya case. It was the same nonsense all over again: dozens of policemen who allegedly “suffered” at the hands of protesters, but clearly not those protesters who were sitting in the prisoners’ box in court; and a prosecution that appealed to some mythical material damage, such as piles of crushed asphalt that, if collected, would cover a territory much larger than Bolotnaya Square.

The trial itself was even more boring and hopeless than previous trials. During the first wave of the Bolotnaya case, a certain intrigue, a hint of struggle could be observed. But by the second wave, this feeling had vanished. Literally the same policemen who clumsily depicted victims and witnesses during the first wave continued to ramble on, constantly confusing the details and changing their testimonies.

Once again, the court rejected the defense lawyers’ appeals, limiting their defense, especially when they tried to question the very fact of mass protests taking place at Bolotnaya Square or to prove that the defendants were completely innocent. The court also expelled the non-professional civil defender Sergei Sharov-Delone, who had obviously annoyed the judge during the “Case of the Twelve” trial with his overly reasonable speeches. An expert assessment of the tactical and technical activities of the protest, which established that the police were at fault for provoking violent behavior from the protesters, was rejected by the court. As was a report by Russia’s Public Commission. Why mess with additional evidence when, according to the court, the defendants’ guilt was already so obvious? At the same time, the court accepted most of the reference letters depicting the defendants in a positive light, medical notes on their health, and other secondary materials that might serve to soften the verdict but not overturn it. It was a telling process, typical for a state intent on showing that it doesn’t really need repressions—it just wants to protect the public from the dangers of democratic “plague” of the Orange Revolution.

The Bolotnaya case was like a performance that made no legal sense; it was founded on public-relations tactics. The entire prosecution consisted of “white-noise” arguments, unproven facts and a never-ceasing mantra about “mass riots” and “criminal intentions.”

The Bolotnaya case was like a performance that made no legal sense; it was founded on public-relations tactics. The entire prosecution consisted of “white-noise” arguments, unproven facts that were presented in the form of a never-ceasing mantra about “mass riots” and “criminal intentions.” If one were to imagine for a second that all of these accusations were true, one’s mind would paint a picture of dangerous and evil malefactors who had decided to drown Russia in the “chaos of Maidan.” In this light, their sentences would appear rather soft. At the last session of the trial, Ilya Gushchin received two and a half years of imprisonment—that is to say “less than the least,” especially considering that he could have gotten up to thirteen years. Alexei Gaskarov and Alexander Margolin received “only” three and a half years in prison colonies each.

This wave did differ from the first wave of the Bolotnaya case in one way. In previous trials, most of the defendants were not accused of violent activities against the police (just “mass riots”), or if they were, the evidence against them was openly fabricated. This time, all four defendants admitted that they had engaged in some activity against policemen. Gaskarov and Gushchin pulled on a policeman who was beating a protester. Kokhtareva threw an empty plastic bottle at the police and also tried to pull a policeman away from protesters. And Margolin even hit a law enforcement representative. All four defendants explained their activities by saying that the people around them were under real threat from the police. Artificially created crowding, the threat of being beaten with police batons, unjustified arrests—all of these were caused by the police, not the protesters. The defense spoke to this effect at every court hearing. But the court persistently ignored these arguments.

The latest trial of the Bolotnaya Square case sharpened the question of who has more rights in the country—citizens or policemen? The answer can be found in the following quotes from the verdict:

  • “The fact of mass riots is proven. There have been found no illegal actions performed by police.”
  • “Participants of a mass riots were to obey the police with no exceptions.”
  • “Insignificant contradictions in victims’ and witnesses’ testimonies are explained by the time limitation and emotions and cannot influence the court’s decision.”
  • “Even though Antonov [the policeman] falling down after Gushchin [the defendant] tugged him is not seen in the video, it was proven by Antonov’s testimony, which the court trusts.”
  • “The court is skeptical of the defendants’ testimonies because they might have been spoken in order to escape responsibility.”
  • “The testimonies from the defense witnesses about the fact that it was police actions that caused crowding are deemed by the court to be subjective and insufficient.”


Yet it seems that society cares less and less about this question. Six months ago, when the court read its decision at the end of the first wave, fifteen hundred people were in attendance. But on August 18, 2014, there were not more than a hundred people gathered near the courthouse.

The Bolotnaya case is becoming history: there remains only one defendant in custody who was arrested during the third wave. The most noticeable people were selected for arrest—tall, in bright clothing, active and easily visible in the video records of the event—and later, cases were built against them, with evidence and witnesses found after the fact. Not all of the would-be defendants were brought to court, a fact that becomes clear if one reads the criminal case records carefully. Inquiries, records, and “witness testimonies” will be kept somewhere deep in the police archives until they become useful for another performance—just as the résumés of the “dissatisfied” were kept in the KGB archives. And they will be kept until our form of justice stops being “Bolotnaya justice” or “Basmanny justice” or anything of the sort, and starts being just Justice.