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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Riot Police Examine How to Do it Right

A noisy crowd of scruffy young men waving red flags and armed with sticks, metal pipes and clubs marches down a Moscow street. They look mean and ready to fight.

At the other end of the street, a wall of men in helmets and blue uniforms - special riot police, or OMON - advances slowly. Suddenly, the riot police break into a run, shouting and banging on their metal shields with rubber clubs.

The ensuing battle is vicious, but brief. A first wave of OMON troops splits the crowd. Isolated fighting breaks out, but the rioters fold before the more disciplined police. A second wave of police surrounds the crowd, and the arrests begin.

This is not the way it happened May Day on Gagarin Square, when communist demonstrators and police clashed in the city's bloodiest violence since the failed 1991 coup. This was a routine training session at OMON headquarters on Ulitsa Rybalko in northwest Moscow, a model of how it can be done.

Television footage of the May Day confrontation between demonstrators and police raised questions about whether the OMON Interior Ministry troops were tough enough or well-enough prepared to carry out their primary function: crowd control.

Major Vitaly Keiko, chief spokesman for Moscow's OMON brigade and one of the 350 riot police present at last Saturday's conflict, said the OMON appeared disorganized because they had been ordered to act defensively.

Keiko said in an interview that riot police could have dispersed the crowd, but were restrained by city authorities from using the tactics they practice.

On the OMON training ground - the walled-off compound's narrow driveway - Keiko and other OMON officers demonstrated some of these tactics to a Russian television crew and a visiting delegation of riot police officers from Toronto, Canada.

As troopers fired blanks over their heads and "bombs" exploded under their feet, OMON boitsy (soldiers) dressed in camouflage fatigues scaled a large steel structure like a jungle gym, acrobatically lowered themselves into a blazing fire and jumped head-first over a flaming, 150-centimeter-high barrier.

A faint smell of burnt eyebrows and facial skin wafted through the compound's air as the men lined up for the next exercise - a demonstration of hand-to-hand combat skills.

The first drills-handcuffing a suspect, disarming a knife- or pistol-wielding assailant, "neutralizing" several attackers- were impressive, if banal.

Then men smashed wooden boards with fist and leg blows but with bricks they were less successful: They could hit the bricks hard enough to knock them out of their partner's hands, but were unable to shatter them.

Finally, one trainee smashed three empty bottles with a karate chop. When he could not smash a fourth, he attempted to break it over his head. After three sharp blows to his forehead, the bottle shattered. Satisfied, and bleeding slightly, the soldier went back to the ranks.

The exercises left the Canadians impressed. "These are well-trained troops", Jim Clark, deputy chief of the Toronto riot police, told his hosts.