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Pro-Kremlin Youth Hunt Down 'Spice' Pushers

  1. Docta
    Two men in their early twenties lie face down in the snow, hands tied behind their backs, heads doused with dark red paint. A dozen young men, some wearing surgical masks, wreck a car with hammers and axes. One sets fire to a plastic bag filled with a greenish powder and a stack of cards that read: "Aroma. Smoking mixes."

    The powder is a synthetic drug known as "spice" that is Russia's latest scourge. The pair on the ground are alleged pushers. And the hammer-wielding men? Vigilantes fighting the drug's spread with widespread public approval, admiring television coverage — and, according to critics, the Kremlin's tacit blessing.

    The anti-drug gangs roaming streets in Moscow and other urban centers are an offshoot of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Young Russia. The vigilantes, who call themselves the Young Anti-Drugs Special Forces, have tapped into rising public outrage over the spread of drug use in Russia, and the impotence of law enforcement to stop it. They are also stirring concerns about President Vladimir Putin's perceived tolerance for extralegal actions against forces considered harmful to the regime or to public order.

    Young Russia and a half dozen other pro-Kremlin youth groups were formed in the mid-2000s, analysts and opposition figures say, to prevent street protests similar to those that ushered pro-Western opposition forces into power in three ex-Soviet states: Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Russian authorities are accused of encouraging violence, or the threat of violence, by youth gangs when dealing with what they see as threats to stability. The vigilantes' free hand indicates that the spice epidemic is seen as one of such threats.

    The Interior Ministry, which controls Russia's police, declined comment to The Associated Press on the gangs, which suspended their activities this month without explanation. The head of Russia's anti-drugs agency, Viktor Ivanov, criticized the group's actions as illegal and "nothing but noise."

    Spice consists of herbs coated in chemicals that mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. In recent years, millions here, mostly teenagers, have smoked various kinds of spice, attracted by its cheapness, availability and reputation for being harmless, officials and anti-drug campaigners say. Reliable figures on usage are not available because of the variety of kinds of spice on offer and the lack of official studies on the phenomenon.

    Pushers sell bags of spice for less than $15, in schools or online, from bulletproof cars and shops with barred windows and metal doors. Their phone numbers are often scrawled on walls or sidewalks, or printed on business cards that carry messages such as "100 percent harmless smoking mix" and "Smoke and go to paradise." Some pushers never see their customers and text message the whereabouts of a spice stash after getting a money transfer.

    Spice is mass produced in China and Southeast Asia and exported to Russia as bath salts, incense and slimming additives, often in mail packages.

    Ivanov, who heads Russia's Federal Drug Control Agency, said fighting spice is nearly impossible, because banning one or more ingredients means manufacturers simply change the molecular structure of the chemicals or replace the herbs to skirt the law.

    "There are 900 versions of it, and every week they come up with a new one," Ivanov told The Associated Press.

    And that's where the masked men with hammers come in. The Anti-Drugs Special Forces, widely known by their Russian acronym, MAS, was formed last year and includes dozens of activists in Moscow, many of them with a background in martial arts. Leaders say the group gets funding from donors and small city-run construction projects that its volunteers work on.

    And the group has its own formula for hunting down spice traders. They track down a pusher. One of them uses a hidden camera to videotape a "control purchase." And then a dozen or more attack, while one or two of them shoot video.

    They sometimes face no resistance from lone pushers who beg to be released and swear never to sell spice anymore. Other times, they fail to break into their fortified shops, leaving after painting the doors and bullet-proof windows with graffiti saying: "Drugs are sold here" or "They kill your children with impunity." On rare occasions, pushers fight back or call their bosses — burly men with guns and knives.

    An Associated Press reporter observed the Moscow attacks on the two pushers who were doused with red paint in the snow.

    Screaming obscenities and threats, more than a dozen vigilantes wearing masks and holding hammers surrounded a man with a baseball bat who had just jumped out of a parked car. The man moved backward, swinging his bat as several masked vigilantes closed in. The driver sat in the car, face convulsed with fear.

    The attackers broke a window of the car and threw in a smoke candle, forcing the driver out. They punched and kicked him, tied his arms and legs with duct-tape and threw him to the snow, dousing his head with paint. From the car's front seat, they took a plastic bag with spice and set it afire. Seconds later, the first man was tied up and also soaked in paint. The assailants smashed the car with metal bars and hammers and turned it on its side.

    The group admits that its methods are illegal.

    "We're walking on the edge, but you have to understand that fighting drugs is a serious thing," said group leader Alexei Grunichev, fair-haired and gaunt, while showing raid videos on his laptop at the group's headquarters in several decrepit rooms. "We also understand our guilt for what we do, but I think that what we do is right and we will fight, keep fighting using these methods until law enforcement agencies, authorities can put everything under control."

    The group claims to have conducted more than 300 raids over the past year in Moscow alone, and posts many raid videos online. These short clips are the backbone of the group's reputation and popular support — despite the violence, obscenities and property damage they contain. They are available on YouTube, the website of their mother group, Young Russia, and on the group's page on vk.com, Russia's most popular social networking site.

    MAF issued a low-key statement on vk.com this month saying that it had halted drug raids on April 12. However, the group's main website does not mention the suspension and still advertises its hardcore solutions to the spice use problem.

    Hundreds of Russians leave encouraging messages on the group's webpages, young rappers praise them in songs and Russian television networks run reports on the group's raids.

    "People often say, 'You should just kill those pushers,' although that's not the way we work," says Arkady Grichishkin, an agitated 21-year-old martial arts student often seen on the group's videos as a leader of raids.

    The Federal Drugs Control Agency said it does not condone the group's raids.

    "We cannot welcome it," said Ivanov. "It lies beyond law — first of all. And secondly, it makes nothing but noise." The vigilantes, however, appear to see Ivanov as an ally, posting his portrait on the walls of their headquarters.

    Users say that the high they get is extremely intense and hallucinogenic. After several weeks of using spice, the drug causes sleep and weight loss, hypertension, seizures and can even lead to schizophrenia, according to officials, health experts and studies in Russia, EU and the U.S.

    Users' parents also appear to be worried.

    "Eighty per cent of phone calls our hot line gets are about spice," says Alexander Bysov of the Moscow-based Sodeistvie — or Assistance — anti-drugs fund that has a hotline for drug addicts and their parents and runs a rehab. "Parents are already crying SOS."

    By MANSUR MIROVALEV Associated Press
    MOSCOW April 25, 2013 (AP)
    Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr. contributed to this report


  1. Alfa
    This reminds of the irish headshop bombings some years ago. there were many rumours and questions about possible ties of the vigilantes to existing drug syndicates and if such vigilantes were protecting drug turf. The same question arises here.
  2. ianzombie
    There are a lot of youtube videos of this 'gang' tarring and feathering dealers, and smashing cars up.
    Its hard to know what is really going on.
    Like Alfa id be weary that these kids are being motivated by other dealers.
    Police seem uninterested in arresting them, in the videos they just stand aside until they have moved on, although being greatly out numbered it would be dangerous to try and take someone into custody.
    Until such a time as some members of this group are arrested and profiled its going to be impossible to know if there are links to other groups.
  3. trdofbeingtrd
    I would think it would be offish if they were other drug gangs just trying to clear the competition. It's hard to keep secret something like that without a smelly rat doing tricks for cheese. In other words it would seem as with most gangs that someone at sometime would try to get the truth out there.

    Also, since the gangs make no real secret of who they are, it would be kind of awkward to tell any people pounding down the door "shhhh, we really sell drugs too" as they are applying to be part of this vigilante group/s.
  4. torachi
    There is a good "In Soviet Russia..." joke somewhere in here.
  5. Docta
    You would not believe how many time I've said that to myself this year as I followed the anecdotal reports of these mobs running dealers out of town, funny how when I think "In Soviet Russia..." in English it always has a strong Muscovite accent. :laugh:

    The main group involved in these activities is a government funded political youth movement called "Nashi" that started out as a group put together to protect the election against 'provocations' as they put it. What they mean is going around kicking the shit out of Garry Kasparov and other proponents of democratic reform so Putin could get reelected. It is at its core a counter revolutionary force setup in 2005 to combat the rise of an Orange Revolution during the Russian Presidential/Parliamentary elections.

    Vladimir Putin, quite simply the richest man on the planet is bank rolling this multi level social order experiment that has action teams of bloggers and social media experts running the most society based elaborate propaganda mill in the world today. The braking up of local drug selling is another media stunt because its high profile and visible to the man in the street. The "Nashi" in the street, is more about systematic political control then curbing the spread of "spice" in an urban society. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Go check out a Danish documentary called Putin's Kiss

    The scope of this is almost beyond comprehension, free meals at McDonald's just think about that for a second. Go to a rally and you eat free at McDonald's!
  6. Alien Sex Fiend
    you guys do realize that so called pro-Kremlin boys have ties to the skinhead pro-white russian movement in russia? the same people beat up jews and pakis and chinese russians, same kids beat up goths and people who look different, same people beat up drug dealers and claim vodka is not a drug. they are not protecting the drug turf, ther are underage skinheads who want everything to become their turf
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