A group of unknown assailants is killing police officers in Russia’s Rostov region. In the last seven months, authorities have linked the same stolen weapons to the slayings of five officers [ru] (two active, three retired), in attacks that resemble a wave of cop-killings [ru] that swept Rostov in 2008 and 2009 and claimed twelve lives. Authorities report that the murderers employ guerilla tactics, often laying traps for their victims and firing from cover. The criminals’ pattern—targeting cops, attacking by surprise, and stealing their weapons—has led many to compare them to the infamous Primorsky Partisans, a self-declared “guerilla group” of six men who terrorized the police of Russia’s Far East in early 2010.
While the Primorsky Partisans captivated Russia with overt talk of popular armed resistance against police occupation (famously conveyed in a public appeal [ru] posted to YouTube in October 2010), Rostov’s cop-killers (whose more recent activity has been in the town of Novocherkassk) remain anonymous, and have yet to attract international, let alone national, attention. Indeed, it’s possible that the five killings since last year are the work of an entirely different group than the one responsible for murdering a slew of Rostov police and their families years ago. After all, in that earlier killing spree, the assailants stabbed to death children as young as eleven and seven, and took the lives of several women. The five active and retired police officers to die in Novocherkassk since last September, on the other hand, have all been adult men.
When it comes to shocking the public with death tolls, however, seventeen is a better number than five, and the added intrigue of “reawakened cop-killers” could soon make Rostov’s criminals into national media stars. If the chatter on Russia’s most popular social network, Vkontakte, is any indication, clouds may already be gathering for a coming news storm.
In VK’s popular news-discussion group [ru], “Free News,” LiveJournal user vsevidyacheeoko’s post [ru] about Novocherkassk’s police murders drew over 400 comments, almost 300 shares, and over 650 “likes.” VK users debated the killers’ similarities to the Primorsky Partisans, and exchanged long, vitriolic remarks about the morality (or lack thereof) of fighting back violently against (presumed to be corrupt) police.
Vsevidyacheeoko, who wrote in his post that a “civil war” has begun against an “occupying regime,” prompted the following response [ru] from Elvira Pushchugina:
А почему гражданская война тогда, если из статьи понятно, что речь об организованной преступности?
And why [call it] a civil war then, if from the article it’s clear that we’re talking about organized crime?
Pushchugina’s refusal to see Novocherkassk’s assailants as anything but gangsters annoyed several of the community’s members, who in turn asked if she felt the same way about the Primorsky Partisans. When Pushchugina indicated that she did not know who they were, her critics released the proverbial hounds. Vitaly Kulikov assumed that her ignorance was due to a reliance on television for information, writing [ru]:
жесть – не знать приморских партизан- видимо зомбоящик делает свое дело
awesome — not [even] knowing [about] the Primorsky Partisans — clearly the boob tube is doing its job
Sergey Starovoitov “encouraged” her to learn more, commenting [ru]:
Гугл в помощь. И вообще, те кто служат этой власти – предатели народных интересов.
Google to the rescue! Generally speaking, those who serve this power structure are traitors to the people’s interests.
Undeterred, Pushchugina retorted [ru] that Kulikov and Starovoitov might warm to law enforcement, were they ever to find themselves threatened by outlaws:
[…] ну-ну. Посмотрим, куда ты побежишь, если тебя случайно ограбят или побьют.
Now, now! Let’s see where you run, if you’re randomly robbed or beaten.
Ironically, community members took this comment as an invitation to share personal stories about police brutality. VK user Pit Klimov wrote [ru]:
Эльвира, последний раз меня били и грабили менты. Бежать действительно было некуда! :-)
Elvira, the last time I was beat up and robbed, it was by cops. There really was nowhere to run! :-)
Moscow-based 59-year-old Marina Zolotova wrote [ru] that police once nearly beat to death her son. Like Starovoitov, she endorsed [ru] an open hunting season on police, rejecting the characterization of Novocherkassk’s assailants as criminals:
[…] Уверена, что это не стихийная или случайная акция. Скорее всего эти полицаи – и есть преступники. Те кто действуют против своего народа не заслуживают ни жалости ни сострадания. Собакам – собачья смерть !
[…] I’m sure that these acts are neither spontaneous nor random. It’s more likely that these policemen are the criminals. Those who act against their own people deserve neither pity nor sympathy. A dog’s death for dogs!
Also demonstrating that passions online run hot not just among the youth, 50-year-old VK user Alexey Khazov declared [ru] his readiness to take up arms against enemies of the people:
Не дай бог если бы началась гражданская война,я уж точно не был бы на стороне режима.Оружие в руках держать умею
God forbid, if civil war were to break out, I would certainly not be on the regime’s side. I know how to handle a weapon.
Russians’ enthusiasm for cop-killers is nothing new. In mid-2010, when the Primorsky Partisans were at the height of their celebrity, the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy polled [ru] its listeners, asking whether they would offer the group assistance, if asked for help. Only a quarter of the audience said it would refuse to give aid. In a more scientific poll, the Levada Center later determined [ru] that only 37% of Russians thought the Partisans were criminals, and the nation was narrowly split 34:37, when asked who presented the greater public danger: cops or cop-killers.
Curiously, the VK group’s discussion about the “Novocherkassk Partisans” flows on the largely unspoken assumption that, of course, the officers killed in the attacks were members of a corrupt institution. Perhaps justifying that premise, news broke [ru] today, June 3, 2013, that internal investigators have charged 15 police officers in Rostov with falsifying case records to exaggerate their department’s efficiency. This news comes roughly a week after investigators accused another Rostov police division [ru] of similar corruption.