Yesterday, I started the translation of this interview from Komsomolskaya Pravda. Reporter Tatiana Telpis sat down with Roman Khabarov, an 18-year veteran of the Moscow police force. Together they watched the amateur video of the “detention” of a 9-year-old boy on Arbat Street, in the center of Moscow. In the ensuing Monday-morning quarterback session, Tatiana posed 10 questions to Roman; and the latter provided his professional expertise in assessing the work of his colleagues: What they did right, and what they did wrong.
Current state is that the police are continuing to investigate the incident internally. The boy himself is in the clear, but police may possibly press charges against his “stepmother” (the woman living with the boy’s father), on the basis of Article 318 (forcefully interfering with a police officer); also possible charges of what I believe in the English language is called “pandering”, that is, assisting (or forcing) children to solicit in the streets for money. Sort like Fagin, in Oliver Twist. According to that theory of the case, the “stepmother” had the boy begging for money, but sat nearby supervising him, probably to make sure he accounted for all the cash collected.
This domestic story, in which nobody actually got physically harmed (thank goodness!) has achieved what Russians call “Resonance” in society. In fact, this incident — which, if it happened in a country like the U.S. would not even make it into the local newspaper — has gone up to the highest levels of the Russian government, to Anna Kuznetsova, Presidential Ombudsman for the Rights of Children, reporting directly to President Putin. Kuznetsova has promised that she will get to the bottom of it. “I understand,” she wrote on her Facebook, “that the police are not cartoon heroes, but all the same, this was a child.” Anna’s initial impression reveals that her tender womanly heart (she herself is the mother of 6 children) turns in the direction of the child, and that she will not necessarily give a pass to the police, unless they can prove that they acted properly. In the course of the incident, while the cops did not exactly put the kid in a choke-hold, they did lay their hands on him and they made him cry. Did I mention before that Russians, as a people, are extremely sentimental about children?
For me, with sorrow I embrace my fortune:
I have some rights of memory in this kingdom,
Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me.
Among the various levels of this story, there is even the “geo-political” level. In Russia, even purely domestic stories quickly become international scandals, with Western media watching, like vultures, every bad thing that happens there. And using every negative thing, either real or invented, to defame Russia and impose more sanctions. In the same way that Prince Fortinbras of Norway used the Hamlet family tragedy to take over the Danish throne. Hence, in the Russian context, conspiracy theories abound, and turn out to be correct approximately 50% of the time!
So, this other piece from KP, by reporter Ivan Grachev, points a suspicious finger at the father, Ilya Skavronski, implying that the grown-ups concocted this piece of street theater, probably in collusion with foreign intelligence agencies. Why would they do that? In order to make Russia look bad to the world and hopefully overthrow the government. Suspicious facts, according to Grachev: (1) the family moved to Moscow from Kiev; (2) this was not the first time the boy was seen reading poetry out on the Arbat; (3) the dad is a known hippy-kreakl; and (4) the most suspicious fact of all: A female journalist from Radio Freedom was johnny-on-the-spot when the incident blew up; it was like she knew it was going to happen at that very moment and was right there, jumping out the bushes, to videotape the whole thing.
Now, all of this would sound like pure paranoid nonsense (much more plausible theory, that this struggling family was out of cash and sent the kid out to beg on the streets), were it not for the fact that the CIA has been known, in the past, to hire Russian performance artists, in their endless quest to bring down the Putin “regime”. Two words, folks: “Pussy Riot”!! Meanwhile, the hippy dad tells his own version of the story which can explain away all the facts except for the “begging bag” into which passers-by were dropping money to reward the child for his Hamlet soliloquy. According to Skavronski: His son is a major theatrical talent and budding actor, who needed to practice in front of the public, in order to get over his own stage fright. The “stepmother” was indeed supervising him nearby, sitting on a bench and reading, while the kid did his thing. If the father’s version of the story is more the true one, then it was all just a big misunderstanding. Either way, the question remains, from a police procedural point of view: Did the cops proceed correctly, based on the facts that they had at the time, what they saw, what they heard? Did they do anything wrong, according to their own rules and standards?
And thus we continue with Khabarov’s analysis and responses to the reporter’s 10 questions:
Question #2: Are children forbidden to be out alone on the street during the day?
Khabarov: No, of course they are not forbidden. And there is not even any age limit. A 5-year-old could be out there, as well as an older schoolchild. The so-called “curfew” only operates after 10:00 PM. Once the curfew time starts, then any child up to the age of 18, who is out on the street, must be accompanied by his parents, or by legal guardians. This could include, for example, teachers, guides, etc. In those same instructions, however, it is written that the police need to pay attention to unaccompanied children at all times of the day or night. They are supposed to approach [the child], ask him why he is alone, where are his parents? And then to act, based on the circumstances. If, for example, the child replies: “Mama and Papa are home/in the shop, and I got lost, here is my phone number…” then the police will phone the parents, “Come and get your offspring,” and then they will conduct a “prophylactic” discussion with the parents, “You need to watch your kids more carefully…” If, on the other hand, the child is not able to explain where his loved ones are, and cannot give them a telephone number, then there is cause to bring the child to the police station and figure out what is going on. The incident on the Arbat followed that second pattern, in my opinion. [Two] patrol officers, on their regular route, noticed the child with a money bag, they approached him, started to ask him questions. A photo out there [on the internet] shows that these guardians of order are communicating with him quite calmly. But for some reason, this boy would not tell them where his parents are, he was also silent on the fact that he is with this strange woman who then appears in the video. The woman herself did not react until the last minute — until they were already leading the boy to the police vehicle. I suspect there is only one reason for this behavior: The boy was begging for money, under her supervision. In my own practice I have encountered this scenario many times.
Question #3: Why did they not take the woman along too? The one who was trying to extract the boy from them? What if it turned out that she had kidnapped him? At the very least, they could have arrested her for swearing at them.
Khabarov: Now, that is a very good question. In my opinion they had every right to detain this woman and take her to the station. They could have reported her behavior to their superiors, even gotten the Investigative Committee involved. This woman was the embodiment of obstructing the lawful work of the police. I have watched this video several times. And I am not shy about criticizing my own colleagues, when it is necessary to do so. But in this case, with this woman, they are bending over backwards to be proper. She shoves them, swears at them — this is a fact. And they respond only with: “Woman, stop doing this.” Only once does one of the patrol officers get a bit huffy, and “Stop this, or I’ll arrest you on petty…” I think he had in mind “petty hooliganism”. And that’s it. And what you say is completely correct: She could have kidnapped the child, for all they knew. Why didn’t they take her in? I believe that was a conscious, tactical move on their part. If they had to start dealing with her, then they would have had to put the boy aside, a lot of time would be wasted, and the scandal would have blown up even bigger. All the same, I believe that the police made a mistake here. At the very least they should have taken her aside, spoken with her calmly, get her to explain who she is.
[to be continued]