Russian Cops Under Fire for Allegedly Using Motorists as Shield

Russian traffic police are under investigation for ordering civilian motorists to park their cars across a highway — and remain inside — to block a fleeing criminal suspect, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Drivers who were part of Friday's incident told Russian television that the suspect's speeding vehicle broke through their blockade on a major Moscow highway, and that no one was injured but cars were damaged.

Russia's Investigative Committee, under the Prosecutor General's Office, confirmed that police had formed a "human shield," and that unspecified action would be taken. The committee could conclude its investigation by asking for criminal charges to be filed.

"We could have been killed," one driver, Stanislav Sutyagin, said in a video posted on YouTube, adding police had warned that the suspect was armed and dangerous. "What if the criminal stopped? We could have come under fire. ... Is it really the case that our lives are worthless in the Russian state?"

"I saw in the mirror that the car was flying toward us," another driver, Nikolai Koroloyov, told Russian state television. "I leaned to the left ... and the car broke through and screeched away."

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said in televised comments later Wednesday that "using people in a human shield is unacceptable." The state news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying the drivers' cars would be fixed and they would receive monetary compensation.

Russian news agencies reported that Moscow police chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev had fired traffic policeman Alexander Kozlov, whose subordinates conducted Friday's operation.

The incident has drawn loud condemnation from activists at a time when police are rapidly garnering a reputation as a threat rather than protection, despite President Dmitry Medvedev's reforms.

Medvedev recently pledged to reform the force, promising to cut thousands of jobs at the bloated Interior Ministry while firing a dozen ministry generals nationwide.

On Wednesday, he ordered an investigation into another traffic accident, Russian news agencies reported. In it, a Mercedes carrying the vice president of Russia's oil company Lukoil collided with a light Citroen, killing two women in the smaller car earlier this month.

The oil company official, Anatoly Barkov, escaped with no significant injuries, and police blamed the victims for the accident.

However, Barkov's driver has come under suspicion after security camera footage disappeared and witness accounts contradicted official reports. Barkov denies wrongdoing, and he sent condolences to the families of the women killed.