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Riot police disperse protesters in Moscow on July 27, 2019

New report says Russian law enforcement has spent more than $100 million on mostly unused riot control gear since 2015

Riot police disperse protesters in Moscow on July 27, 2019
Riot police disperse protesters in Moscow on July 27, 2019
Yuri Kochetkov / EPA / Scanpix / LETA

Over the past five years, based on public procurement data, law enforcement agencies in Russia have spent at least 7.3 billion rubles ($103 million) to acquire and maintain special non-lethal means of riot control, according to a new report by the “Agora” human rights group.

While police departments and Russia’s National Guard have an arsenal of non-lethal tools at their disposal, they’ve spent the lion’s share of this money — 4.4 billion rubles ($62.1 million) — on the purchase and maintenance of armored special vehicles, including “Tornado” assault breacher vehicles, “Thunderstorm” water-cannon vehicles, and vehicles equipped with laser and noise emitters designed “to elicit certain behavior reactions in law breakers.”

Other acquisitions by law enforcement agencies included:

  • Electroshock devices (1.5 billion rubles, or $21.2 million)
  • Water cannons (650 million rubles, or $9.2 million)
  • Aerosol gas sprayers (201 million rubles, or $2.8 million, from 2015 to 2018 and then more than 30.5 million rubles, or $430,355, in 2020)
  • Shockproof shields (410 million rubles, or $5.8 million)
  • Handheld grenade launchers (70.5 million rubles, or $994,755)

Police departments also purchased handcuffs and rubber clubs for what the “Agora” Group’s researchers call “universal use.”

Despite buying all this special equipment, law enforcement agencies in Russia have relied primarily on rubber clubs and shields when dispersing unpermitted protests. Most of these non-lethal weapons “go either unused or used outside their intended purposes, for a deterrent (cooling) effect,” says the report by “Agora.” On rare occasions, however, officers have used some of their special equipment, like tear gas.

The report’s authors warn that the non-lethal crowd-control instruments can still endanger the health and even lives of demonstrators. For example, psychologist Vladimir Rubashny told the human rights group that this special equipment can traumatize the people it targets. Additionally, forensic pathologist Ilya Zharkov points out that these weapons can cause the loss of vision, speech, or hearing, organ failure, or termination of pregnancy. Presenting its research, the “Agora” group urges Russia’s authorities to study the dangers of crowd-control equipment before issuing procurement contracts.

Summary by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock