Ready to propose? In Russia, you can hire a special ops team to give you a hand and set up a fake drug bust for your beloved.
Fabricated drug busts are so common in Russia that the law used to prosecute Russians for alleged drug use is known as “the people’s statute.” In June 2019, when police “found” multiple bags of narcotics on Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov, that law united journalists and activists in an unprecedented solidarity campaign. As it turns out, though, that’s far from the only way Article 228 of the Russian Criminal Codex can bring people together.
In an August 28 report, the BBC Russian Service detailed the inner workings of Russia’s special ops prank industry, which allows ordinary people to commission fake drug busts and other police operations for tens of thousands of rubles a pop. In fact, businesses like Sergey Rodkin’s Spetsnaz Show offer a whole range of fake special ops services, from joyrides on tanks to demonstrations for children’s parties. Many of the pranks Rodkin described to the BBC were romantic in nature: Young men frequently ask his company to arrest their wives or girlfriends only to reveal that the arrest is in fact an anniversary celebration or a marriage proposal. For example, a young man named Sergey allowed the BBC to ride along as he suited up and donned a facemask to arrest his girlfriend Anastasia. When Sergey’s hired hands from Spetsnaz Show found a bag of white powder near Anastasia’s car seat and tore it open to reveal a small box, the young man tore off his mask, got down on one knee, and presented the box to Anastasia, shouting, “It was a prank! Marry me!”
Anastasia took a while to recover from the shock of facing charges that can carry years of prison time in Russia, but she ultimately took the prank in stride and agreed to say “I do.” Not all of Spetsnaz Show’s targets are quite so forgiving, however: One wife reacted to her 30th-anniversary special ops visit by screaming profanity at her husband, and another woman accepted her boyfriend’s proposal only after beating him over the head with the bouquet he had brought along. Especially when clients order fake SWAT raids for large events like weddings or office parties, Sergey Rodkin said, he asks them to warn any older guests in advance to avoid unexpected heart attacks. Rodkin denied that his clients might be traumatizing their colleagues and loved ones. He explained that he and his employees make sure their “shows” are just shocking enough to give everyone involved a good laugh when they’re over.
Psychologist Polina Soldatova isn’t so sure. She told the BBC that those on the receiving end of a special ops prank might laugh or smile simply because they are so relieved that their arrest wasn’t the real thing. Meanwhile, she said, the person who ordered the operation likely “has fun” only because they get to experience a tremendous power trip with a dose of a patriarchal savior complex. Soldatova theorized that the rise of companies like Spetsnaz Show stems more from collective fear than a desire to have fun. In other words, drug bust pranks may provide Russian residents with a way to process the fact that any of them could suddenly fall victim to a real fake drug bust.