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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Socking It to the Cops

There is only one way to treat a Russian cop -- with as much disrespect as he doles out. That's what Yura told me after he was nearly hauled away during a late-night document check.

Faced with an empty kitchen cupboard and growling stomachs, we headed out to an all-night supermarket at 1 a.m. I had made the night run many times before.

After picking out a couple frozen pizzas, a carton of milk and several odds and ends, Yura and I started the one-kilometer trek back.

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Halfway there, a boxy blue and white police van roared past us, screeched to a stop and slowly backed up. Three officers jumped out.

I had only been stopped by the police a handful of times in nearly seven years in Russia. They always saluted, looked at my passport and fair complexion and waved me on.

This time, without a salute, the officers gruffly asked what we were doing out on the street at night.

We pointed to the white plastic bags filled with groceries.

One officer suggested we had stolen the food and demanded our documents.

I pulled out my passport. He studied it and, failing to decipher the English words, grudgingly handed it back and told me to go. I stayed put.

Yura had forgotten his passport. The penalty for failing to produce a passport is a fine of 100 rubles.

The officers did not want to write up a fine. "We're going to have to take you in to find out who you are," the first officer said, roughly grabbing Yura by the arm.

I opened my mouth, ready to offer a bribe.

Yura glared me into silence. "How long will it take to confirm who I am?" he said in a steely voice.

"A couple hours," the officer said. "Then we'll let you go."

A torrent of words flew from Yura's mouth.

"Let's go then," he said. "But I don't know who you are and where you are really planning to take me. I won't go alone. Take him, too." Yura pointed at me. "And I don't know this area of town very well, especially at night. We're not going to walk back. You'll have to bring us back."

The officer studied Yura and then me with narrowed eyes.

"Scram," he snarled.

We went.

"How did you do that?" I asked Yura. "I was going to offer some money."

"I knew you were," he said. "But you can't show any sign of weakness or fear. If the police act tough, you've got to act tougher."

Yura spoke of an understanding that got Brendon, a friend from New Zealand, out of a jam. He was picked up near the Vodny Stadion metro station on his way home from sunbathing at the river last summer.

A police van pulled up beside him, and five officers spilled out. As one inspected his passport, the other four combed through his backpack, pulling out sun lotion, a soggy towel and printouts of personal e-mail messages.

An officer suddenly brought one of the e-mails, now folded, from behind his back and opened it. Inside was a small pile of green-brown flakes. "What's this?" he said.

Brendon told me the next day: "I looked at it, and the only thing I could think was, 'They aren't going to frame me with drug possession.'"

He retorted to the officer, "You know what it is," and angrily flicked the paper with a finger, sending the flakes flying.

White-faced, the officers forced him into their van and took off. "If that's the way you're going to be, we'll settle this at the station," Brendon said and clammed up.

After five minutes of futile questioning, the officers stopped the van and ordered Brendon out. He started walking, looked around and realized he didn't know the way back to the metro.

He stalked back to the still-parked van and asked for directions. The officers politely told him.

Andrew McChesney is deputy editor of The Moscow Times.