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Riot Police Complain Of Corruption As Demonstrations Rock Russia

OMON forces confront a journalist in Moscow (file photo)
(RFE/RL) -- Just as a wave of demonstrations is sweeping Russia, an elite battalion of OMON riot police in Moscow has appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev, complaining of rampant abuse among police commanders.

The letter was published by the independent "Novoye vremya" magazine.

The officers complain that battalion commander Sergei Yevtikov has demanded that each officer arrest no less than three demonstrators at opposition rallies or face loss of bonuses and awards. They say that there is a standing order to detain Eduard Limonov, head of the banned National Bolshevik Party, as soon as he is spotted.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Sergei Taran, a former OMON officer and a coauthor of the letter to Medvedev, explained how commanders ordered OMON troops to disrupt demonstrations.

"There is usually an order, and I don't know where it comes from, to take certain people away [during opposition rallies]," Taran said. "So [OMON members] detain them, throw them into buses, and bring them to police stations. There are prewritten reports -- for instance, charging them with crossing the street illegally -- so [policemen] just fill in their names and make up these absurd reports."

Interior Ministry spokesman Mikhail Sukhodolsky was quoted by Interfax today as saying the information published in "Novoye vremya" will be checked. "And if in some form or another the facts are confirmed, which I strongly doubt they will be, then the harshest possible measures will be taken against those who allowed violations," Sukhodolsky was quoted as saying.

A spokeswoman for the Moscow police told the agency that the OMON letter "bears a clearly libelous character" and said several of the signatories were dismissed from OMON late last year.

The OMON complaints come as Russia faces a wave of protests by opposition activists seeking to defend the right to assemble peaceably, which is guaranteed by Article 31 of the Russian Constitution. They have vowed to hold nationwide demonstrations on the 31st of every applicable month to highlight their complaints. A wave of unsanctioned protests on January 31 led to dozens of activists in numerous cities being detained by police.

WATCH: Moscow police crack down on protesters asserting their right to assemble peacefully.

In Moscow, OMON troops detained about two dozen demonstrators, including former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who described the arrests for RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"Those who were standing around us, a colonel called Viktor Aleksandrovich, acted completely pleasantly and agreed that the authorities are doing everything so that in the end there will be a revolution," Nemtsov said. "They are acting stupidly. The remaining police acted like animals -- they grabbed us, spun us around, shouted, screamed, pushed, and pressed up tight against Lyudmila Mikhailovna [Alekseyeva, the 82-year-old head of the Moscow Helsinki Group]."

Asked how many people were at the demonstration, Nemtsov said that "if you count OMON and the police, several thousand. If you don't count OMON and the police, a few hundred."

The letter by the Moscow OMON battalion complains of widespread corruption and abuse of office. Officers have quotas for the number of people they are to detain per shift and are docked pay if they fail to fulfill the plan, the letter states.

The officers also complain that they are forced to protect elite cottages outside of Moscow and the businesses of alleged criminals who are protected by senior Interior Ministry officials. Officers also complain that the police protect the prostitution business in exchange for money and sexual favors.

The letter also states that OMON troops are regularly assembled and told by officers that protest actions such as the Marches of Dissent, neo-Nazi demonstrations, and gay-pride parades are sponsored by foreign intelligence agencies.

Late last year, Novorossiisk police Major Aleksei Dymovsky made headlines by posting a video appeal about police corruption on YouTube. He was jailed earlier this month on fraud and abuse-of-office charges. The handling of the Dymovsky matter has raised doubts about President Medvedev's announced intention to reform the Interior Ministry and combat police abuses.