July Protests in Moscow: the Kremlin Loses Patience

The DFRLab identified where the more broadly disseminated videos of the Moscow police’s use of excessive force were filmed

(Source: @LAndriukaitis/DFRLab via APNews/archive)

This is the latest post in a DFRLab series on the ongoing protests in Moscow.

After allowing peaceful protests in Moscow for a week, the Kremlin started forcefully suppressing them on July 27, detaining nearly 1,400 people on one day in the process.

On July 20, protesters in Moscow gathered to demand for opposition candidates to be allowed to register as candidate for local municipal elections in September. As the DFRLab previously reported, these protests in Moscow grew to at least 20,000 people and went on uninterrupted for eight days. On July 27, however, the Kremlin’s patience ran out, and Russian police started detaining protesters. When protesters refused to leave, the police began making arrests, forcing the crowds to disperse. Human Rights Watch reported that some of the organizers of the protests face up to 15 years imprisonment for organizing what the Kremlin called “mass unrest.”

On the first day of the crackdown, Russian police arrested nearly 1,400 protesters. The majority of them were released, yet 150 remained in custody facing criminal charges. Despite the brutal arrests, the protests spanned into the following weekend and an additional 838 people were arrested on Saturday, August 3. By the end of the August 3rd weekend, over 1,000 protesters were reportedly arrested; the opposition has stated that, despite the continuing arrests, it plans to continue the protests.

To disperse the crowds on July 27, the police used excessive force, as documented by various videos on social media. Publicly available videos show the brutality of the police officers as they detained peaceful protesters. The DFRLab found and verified three videos from the July 27 police crackdown in Moscow.

Geolocating Videos from July 27

One of the most iconic videos from the crackdown showed Russian police forces, with the help of OMON (Special Purpose Mobile Unit), arresting a young couple. As police dogs barked in the background, police officers attempted to haul the protesters into the police van. The OMON officers beat the couple and others in the vicinity with batons.

The comments under the video suggested that the man on the ground had his ribs broken during his arrest and that officers refused to provide him medical care, yet this fact was not confirmed. The same incident was recorded by several people from different angles, revealing the full scope of the incident.

Multiple videos from different angles also allowed for a better view of where the incident took place.

In one of the videos, a plaque with the street name Rozhdestvenka (Russian: Рождественка) was visible. Using the plaque as a reference point, the DFRLab identified the location of the video via Google Street View. The couple was sitting on the stairs at the end of Rozhdestvenka street prior to their arrest.

Geolocation of the couple’s arrest. The yellow and green lines show the plaque with the street name found in the video (bottom) and on Google Street View (top). Blue lines show the stairs on which the protesters were sitting. (Source: GoogleMaps, top left; @PaulaChertok/archive, bottom)

The second video showed an elderly man with a sign and and a walking stick being carried away to a police van. The elderly man was holding a sign saying “S.O.S.” — the international Morse code distress signal — in both English and Russian.

This video was also confirmed by geolocation, based on the visible street sign on one of the buildings. The sign read Tverskaya Street (Russian: Тверская) and since the arrest took place in an open area, one of the squares of the main street was easy to identify.

Geolocation of the video showing an elderly man with the S.O.S. sign being arrested. (Source: GoogleMaps, top left: @Ukropo4ka/archive, bottom)

The third video was also taken near Tverskaya Street, close to the location of the second video. In the video, a line of policemen held the crowd back by beating them with batons.

A tweet accompanying the video indicated that the incident shown in the video had taken place in Bryusov Alley (Russian: Брюсов переулок). The DFRLab confirmed that it unfolded at the intersection of Bryusov Alley and Tverskaya Street in central Moscow.

Geolocation of police forces beating back the protester crowd in Bryusov Alley. Blue lines show an apartment building on Tverskaya Street. Green lines show the building columns of an alleyway leading to Bryusov Alley. (Source: GoogleMaps, bottom right: @kozlovsky/archive, bottom)

Additionally, a tweet surfaced on July 28 showing police using excessive force to arrest a man who claimed to be out for a jog. Twitter user @CKonovalov shared a photo of him being arrested by six police officers, three of whom were stepping on his feet and heels to cause additional pain.

The photo was geolocated using the details available in the tweet and in the picture itself. The post suggested that the incident also took place on Tverskaya Street; the reflection of a street sign in the window, however, revealed that it took place on Malyy Gnezdnikovskiy Pereulok (Russian: Малый Гнездниковский Переулок).

Geolocation of @CKonovalov’s brutal arrest. The location appeared to be on the intersection of Tverskaya and Malyy Gnezdnikovskiy Pereulok. The green lines show the matching street signs and the pink lines show the roof of the entrance to the basement. (Source: GoogleMaps, top; @CKonovalov/archive, bottom)

All of the videos and photos used in this research were checked with reverse image search, which suggested that the videos were not posted before and are likely to be genuine. At the time of this research, no new videos of protesters clashing with police had surfaced involving July 27.


Lukas Andriukaitis is a Research Associate with the Digital Forensic Research Lab and is based in Washington, DC.

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