Dmitry Androsov, a 31-year-old Russian leader of the opposition party, tells Rolling Stone his recent interrogation by the Russian police turned violent. He says he was hauled into the stuffy Izmailovo police station in Moscow and was grilled by the police for hours. A Russian police officer wore a black mask, black turtleneck sweater, and an unholstered gun, stuck through a belt on his hip, loomed over Androsov, demanding he sign a two-page police protocol that included accusations of violating five administrative and criminal laws. By signing the document, Androsov would have admitted his guilt: “the discreditation of Russian Armed Forces.” Androsov refused to sign.
And then the officer lost his patience, according to Androsov, and wrapped his hands around Androsov’s neck. “He was yelling he would lock me up, hide me away, keep me. I could not breathe. I was choked, strangled,” Androsov tells Rolling Stone. “The officer’s young assistant was avoiding looking at me, pretending that nothing was happening. They were not serving the law. He and the entire police now serve Putin. The police officer accused me of being a traitor. We had been choked politically, our opposition leaders were poisoned, imprisoned, killed. And there I was, being actually strangled to death. He had all power over me.” Androsov says he could not breathe: “It continued forever.”
During Androsov’s detention, his lawyer, Alan Kibizov, was waiting outside the police station. He managed to reach Androsov on the phone and strongly advised him against signing any documents. “The policeman on duty said that a police detective was interrogating my client. At some point a detective came out. He spoke with me through the bars, I could not see his face, it was covered with a black mask,” Kibizov says. “I told the detective that the document he was forcing my client to sign was his self-made document, that it would cause my client bigger problems in the future, and I did not recommend signing it. When red-faced Androsov walked out, I made sure he calls to the Main Department of the Interior Ministry Affairs of Moscow, which my client did — so they have the recording of his audio message about the detective torturing him, and we expect there should be punishment for such a violation.”
Multiple requests for comment to Russian law-enforcement agencies were not returned. But Androsov was still in shock days after the attack when he spoke to Rolling Stone. He says he thought of Putin’s famous comment, when the Russian leader compared the opposition to monkeys from The Jungle Book in 2012: “Come to me, my Bandar-logs,” Putin quoted the snake Kaa, who lured monkeys into his lair and strangled them. “They killed one co-leader of our party, Boris Nemtsov; they poisoned our party co-leader Vladimir Kara-Murza twice, and now he is facing 15 years in jail,” Androsov says. “They choked the People’s Freedom Party. They almost strangled me to death.” (Russia has denied any involvement in the assassination of Nemtsov and the poisoning of Kara-Murza.) Terrified his life would end on the floor of Izmailovo police station or in some basement, Androsov agreed to sign the paper.
That moment at the police station came as millions of Russians celebrated Victory Day, Russia’s national holiday marking the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. Tens of thousands watched soldiers and tanks parading on the Red Square, and listened to Putin defending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On that day at the police station, Androsov, one of the key leaders of the liberal People’s Freedom Party, also known by its acronym PARNAS, says he learned that his name was on a secret police database called Sphere. “Whenever the FSB or police find your name on Sphere, they can send you to jail for years,” he tells Rolling Stone. “They were watching me on security cameras that day before the detention — once on the Sphere list, you are in their hands, no matter which city you go to around Russia.”
That was Androsov’s second detention since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He says he was first arrested on the third day of the war for organizing a rally in support of Ukraine. While hundreds of thousands of others fled the country to escape a tsunami of repression, Androsov remained in Moscow. “Everything I was thinking of was how to express my disagreement with the catastrophe,” he says. “I walked with Ukrainian and Russian flags to the center of Moscow. I think that being inside Russia I did not have any moral right to stay silent. Then I got tortured and realized they would now constantly arrest me, since I was on the Sphere list.”
Androsov says he’s been on the Kremlin’s radar for years. In 2016, he ran for a seat in the parliament. The authorities became interested in him soon after. “The FSB tried to recruit me in 2017,” he claims. “They said they needed somebody like me, who spoke foreign languages. Their agents expected I would report to them about the context of my conversations, my political negotiations, so I had to urgently leave the country. I moved to Budapest, where I studied international relations.” Androsov returned to Russia a year before the war in Ukraine and once again became active in organizing opposition rallies.
Russia’s crackdown on the opposition has gotten more severe as the war has not gone as Putin expected. More than 15,000 people had been detained for protesting Putin’s Ukraine invasion, and the accusations grow more absurd by the day. One opposition activist was arrested for wearing a T-shirt that said “Decommunization” next to a crossed hammer and sickle, another for standing next to the Kyiv Hero City monument in Moscow with a copy of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
St. Petersburg artist and musician Alexandra Skochilenko became a symbol of the anti-war protest movement after replacing four price tags in stores with anti-war slogans – she is facing up to 10 years in prison. Banned from rallies and even one-person protests, the Russian opposition is struggling as it faces a police state. “We don’t have years left to spend in jail, so all statements we release in support of our imprisoned colleagues are self-censored, there is no air to breath,” the head of the Moscow branch of the People’s Freedom Party, Mikhail Shneider, tells Rolling Stone.
The founder of the People’s Freedom Party, Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former member of the Duma, remained in Russia this week. “Authorities have practically banned all our political activity. We self-censor every word in social media posts: as soon as you write the word ‘war’ police head your way,” Ryzhkov tells Rolling Stone. Ryzhkov and four more opposition deputies appealed to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, requesting the true data on the war’s costs and casualties — the U.K. defense ministry announced that more than 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in three years of the war in Ukraine, more than in nine years of Soviet war in Afghanistan. “We demand from Shoigu not to send draftees to Ukraine, but otherwise all our political activity has been completely strangled,” Ryzhkov added.
The PARNAS liberal party complained to authorities about the police attack on its leader, Androsov. The medical certificate that Androsov received upon his release from jail had a very short conclusion: “Damaged ligaments in cervical spine.” Androsov left Russia for Germany soon after his detention. He was still in deep shock. The Moscow branch of the PARNAS party released a statement on May 12 condemning the attack and calling for an investigation, but so far the police have not responded and the detective in question remains on duty.
After his detention at the Izmailovo police station, Androsov went back to Red Square and filmed a defiant video of himself saying: “Glory to Ukraine. Long live Belarus. And Russia will be free” — the three major slogans of freedom fighters in the three neighboring countries. “It was like a sip of fresh air to me,” he says. But a young woman “turned to me and said it was unpleasant for her to hear these words.” The streets of Moscow have become a place where even mild dissent is met with fear and anger.
The Freedom Party leader Shneider feels bitter about how powerless the anti-war, anti-Putin opposition has become. “We lived under pressure and censorship for decades under the Soviet regime,” he says. “We will be free again, but it’s painful to be back to where we came from, to see the political repressions against our young activists and realize that everything we have tried to build for 30 years is being strangled now.”