It is as a rule useful to analise events after some time has passed. Several weeks ago the “primorsky partisans’” brief campaign came to an end. Police cornered the self-styled group of “partisans” who led a guerrilla war against law enforcement officials in the Primorye Region of the Russian Far East. Members of the group were captured or killed.
The story sparked a rhapsodical mythologizing. Commentators and bloggers fired up by relentless tales of police corruption and violence overpraised the cop killers, conferring on them a long list of heroic titles: “Rambo,” “forest partisans”, or simply the “Primorye heroes,” according to graffiti that has appeared in Moscow.
But the question is: are the six youngsters alleged to have murdered three policemen really the victims of police brutality and injustice that their families say they are? Or are they neo-Nazis and career criminals as the police have described them? And is the Interior Ministry’s credibility really so low that the Russian public is prepared to indulge a war on the police?
Fixing the motives is extremely difficult. Relatives, including the father of 18-year-old Roman Savchenko, the first of the group to be caught, told Russian media that the young men had been beaten up by police over crimes they did not commit. Others have speculated that they were taking revenge for the break-up of an illegal logging operation they were involved in. Adding to the confusion is a wealth of links to the far-right. Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova Center, which monitors the far right, said he doubts the group was motivated by race war. “Only one of them was definitely connected to the far right,” he said. “I don’t see any serious connection with skinheads here.”
The cop-killing campaign seems to have been active for most of the year. On February 27 Russian news agencies reported a deadly attack on a police patrol in Vladivostok, in which one officer was killed and the assailants made off with a radio and a pistol. That attack has not yet been attributed to the “partisans,” but it followed the pattern of the group’s later attacks.
În the night of May 27 the bandits made a raid on a police station in which they stabbed the lone sergeant on night duty to death and made off with equipment consisting only of bullet-proof vests, handcuffs and a radio station. The police station was too small to be equipped with weapons. Especially shocking was the way of killing. There were about twenty stab wounds found in the dead body. Two daggers were left stuck into the chest. Heroes' bravado? Or beasts' cold blood? The sergeant was the father of two little daughters.
On May 29 the so-called partisans shot up a police car, seriously wounding one officer. But they only shot to fame with their third attack, a drive-by shooting on a police Toyota near the town of Spassk-Dalny on the night of Tuesday, June 8. By Wednesday morning the media had picked up the story. By Thursday the blogosphere had exploded with chatter about the “Russian Rambos” and the radio station "Ekho Moskvy" was asking its listeners whether the killers were criminals or “Robin Hoods” – and 70 percent of respondents said the latter.
But could so many people really support cop-killers? Why, actually, are people on the side of the bandits and not those who were killed and wounded? The professional pollsters have yet to tackle the issue head on. It is obvious that both the gang and most users of the blogosphere, where support for the group has been loudest, are young. And it is wellknown in Russia that victims of Russian police violence fall into two categories: the young, and the drunk. So it might be supposed that the proportion of bloggers who have a grumble against the police and believe they should ‘answer’ if not with weapons, then with fists, is quite big.
Whatever the answer may be, it will take actions, not words, to end the talk of Rambo and Robin Hood.