August 23, 2019

Notorious Ukrainian Berkut commander gets second crack at protesters – in Moscow


Sergei Kusyuk is wanted in both Kyiv and Moscow, but in two very different ways.

Ukraine has issued an international arrest warrant for the former Berkut riot-police commander in connection with the lethal suppression of the 2013-2014 Euro-Maidan protests. Yet in Moscow, Mr. Kusyuk is now a colonel in the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry’s OMON force and was seen on August 3 overseeing the arrests of demonstrators calling for fair municipal elections in the capital.

An RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent covering the arrests of protesters and passersby on Moscow’s Novy Arbat on August 3 filmed Mr. Kusyuk managing the operation, commanding a group of more than a dozen masked and helmeted OMON troops.

Protesters and witnesses maintain that, while some of those detained by Mr. Kusyuk’s men had participated in a peaceful, unsanctioned demonstration on the nearby Stary Arbat pedestrian street, many others simply happened to be walking in the busy Moscow shopping district.

It was not the first time that Mr. Kusyuk has been spotted cracking down on demonstrators in Moscow. On June 12, 2017, journalists saw him performing a similar role during a demonstration called by Aleksei Navalny to protest corruption under President Vladimir Putin. In the 2017 videos, OMON troops can be heard addressing Mr. Kusyuk as “comrade colonel.”

The June 12 demonstration was met with a particularly harsh response from OMON forces, who were seen beating demonstrators with rubber truncheons seemingly at random. In all, more than 1,600 people were detained in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities across Russia.


Sparking Maidan

In Ukraine, Mr. Kusyuk is a notorious personality. On December 28, 2014, the Ukrainian government issued an international arrest warrant for Mr. Kusyuk, who served as the commander of Berkut riot police in Kyiv during the administration of Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, accusing him of “participation in the mass murder of activists in the center of Kyiv.”

Mr. Kusyuk had been accused of ordering police to beat demonstrators on Indepen­dence Square – Maidan Nezalezh­nosty in Ukrainian – on the night of November 30, 2013. That brutal incident led to a massive increase in the number of demonstrators in the center of the city, energizing the protests that eventually prompted Mr. Yanukovych to flee the country for Russia at the end of February 2014.

In an interview with Ukraine’s Vesti radio in December 2013, Mr. Kusyuk denied ordering troops to beat the demonstrators, saying that Ukrainian law gave police the right to use “special measures” on their own judgment if they feel they are in danger.

In the same Vesti story, an unidentified protester gave quite a different account of the events of that night.

“The Berkut attacked us while we were sitting peacefully under the independence monument,” he said. “Some people were sleeping; others were chatting. And suddenly, they attacked. People immediately raised their arms in surrender, but they were beating even those who were lying on the ground, beating people until they were unconscious. There is video in which a Berkut officer is heard yelling, ‘On your knees, bastard!’ ”

Mr. Kusyuk is also accused of organizing a provocation the following day, December 1, 2013. He allegedly ordered a man in a bulldozer to drive into a police line outside the Presidential Administration building in an apparent attempt to smear the protesters as dangerously violent.

Earlier, in November 2012, activists with the Democratic Alliance political party attempted to hold a demonstration as then-Prime Minister Mykola Azarov was ceremoniously opening a new Kyiv subway station. The demonstrators were brutally attacked by a group of thugs in plainclothes, people who a year later would come to be known as “titushky.” The activists alleged that the group was commanded by Mr. Kusyuk, who was also in plainclothes.

On February 18-20, 2014, 77 protesters were killed in clashes between demonstrators and police, many of them shot by police snipers. In all, 106 people were killed – including 13 police officers – during the Euro-Maidan protests.

Around that time, Mr. Kusyuk was one of an estimated 70 Berkut officers who fled to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which was in the process of being seized by Russia. He later traveled on to Russia. Although it is not known whether Mr. Kusyuk took Russian citizenship, many of the Berkut officers did. In May 2014, Russian Internal Affairs Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev administered the citizenship oath to 10 former Berkut officers and welcomed them into the Russian police force.

“I am sure you will not only become good workers,” he said at the time, “but faithful comrades as well. After the well-known events in Ukraine, our country promised to help and support officers of the special forces who found themselves in exile from their homeland. We invited them to continue their service in the ranks of the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry.”

Also in May 2014, Ukrainian Parliament National Deputy Hennadiy Moskal alleged that Mr. Kusyuk may have transported with him to Crimea the sniper rifles used by Berkut officers to shoot demonstrators on February 18-20.

According to Mr. Moskal, Mr. Kosyuk had already been working for the Russian Internal Affairs Ministry “for a long time.”


Written by Robert Coalson based on reporting by Mark Krutov of RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

Copyright 2019, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington DC 20036; (see–in-moscow/30107804.html).