Alligator clips on the legs. Russian bikers discuss the war, curse Putin in a private chat — and end up being accused of preparing a terrorist act
Павел Васильев
Alligator clips on the legs. Russian bikers discuss the war, curse Putin in a private chat — and end up being accused of preparing a terrorist act
18 April 2024, 16:04

Art by Mila Grabowski / Mediazona

In Rostov-on-Don, a court is considering a case on the preparation of a terrorist act, with three bikers on the defendants’ bench. According to the investigation, they planned to set fire to a military enlistment office in Pyatigorsk using Molotov cocktails. All of the accused were members of a private chat with eight people. Before the war began, they discussed joint trips to the mountains there, and afterwards, they passionately discussed the course of the military invasion, praised the Ukrainian Armed Forces, cursed Vladimir Putin and the Russian army. Subsequently, all three said that law enforcement officers forced them under torture to take responsibility for the failed terrorist act. One more biker, who was also accused of a terrorist attempt, a former policeman from Yessentuki, managed to flee to the USA before he was put on the wanted list.

In the last several months, a 29-year-old Russian Anna Murneva, along with her four children, has been living in Georgia. Anna decided to leave after it became clear to her that her husband, 35-year-old auto mechanic and biker Nikolai Murnev, would not be released from custody. In the fall of 2022, Nikolai and two of his close friends were sent to pre-trial detention on charges of attempting to set fire to a military enlistment office.

Throughout the whole last year, Anna was hoping that the charges against her husband would be dropped. “I still hoped for some justice from the investigation and the court. This year was when I realised I’ve been too optimistic and illusions that justice exists for us were shattered,” she says. In early December, Anna moved from Yessentuki to Tbilisi and started talking about her husband’s case in her blog.

In one of the posts, Anna writes that Nikolai is being beaten in the Pyatigorsk pre-trial detention centre to prevent him from retracting his confession in court.

His friends, who are also under investigation, also claim to be tortured: according to one of the men, a gun was held to his head, demanding him to sign a confession; another described being suffocated with a plastic bag, demanded to unlock his phone, and being electrocuted with Alligator clips, which are used for charging car batteries, attached to his legs.

In early December, Anna posted a photo showing their children — the eldest daughter is 10 years old, and the youngest is only two — holding a poster with the inscription: “Dad, we love you.” They last saw their father almost a year and a half ago.

“We did have sabotage intentions.” How the bikers were detained

On the morning of October 12, 2022, Anna Murneva dropped her husband off at the workshop where he worked as an auto mechanic, and then she went with the children to the clinic. She returned home by noon. At the same time, law enforcement officers came to her house with a search warrant. Anna recalls that they asked her to hand over “prohibited substances, literature, and Ukrainian flags” — none of which, the woman says, they had at home. The officers were most interested in her husband’s garage. According to Anna, she offered to contact Nikolai so that he could also be present during the search, but they told her “he’s got other things to worry about right now.”

During the search in the Murnevs’ garage, two rifles, a traumatic pistol, hunting cartridges, cans of gunpowder, and a grenade launcher tube were found — as Anna notes, her husband always said that “every decent man should have a rifle at home.” The weapons and ammunition were stored in a safe and were officially registered.

Besides the usual items — glue, wires, spray paint cans, bolts, gloves, tools, and motor oil — found in the garage, two Molotov cocktails were discovered. Later, the analysis determined that the bottles were filled with gasoline and aluminum powder, with matches and fabric fragments attached to them. Anna does not know how the Molotov cocktails ended up among the tools, and suggests that they could have been planted. By the time of the search, Nikolai Murnev had already been detained.

The FSB reported on the prevented terrorist act in Stavropol only two weeks later. The message was accompanied by operational footage.

In the video, Nikolai Murnev’s long-time friend, 36-year-old biker Sergey Dudchenko, is lying on the ground near the garage, while men in masks handcuff him. Then, cartridges, grenades, weapons, syringes with a murky liquid, saltpeter, and an item in a bag, which a voice off-camera calls an “electronic detonator for plastique,” are shown. In the following frames, 38-year-old Kirill Buzmakov, another motorcyclist from Stavropol and a friend of Dudchenko and Murnev, confesses on camera that he and his friends sympathised with “Azov,” “admired their actions” of the regiment’s fighters and took an example from them. “We had intentions and means to commit illegal actions, various sabotages,” he says.

The charge of preparing a terrorist act against Murnev and his friends was brought only a few days after the FSB press release. Formally, Nikolai was detained on a different pretext altogether — allegedly for swearing in a public place. The court sentenced him to 14 days of administrative arrest. On the same day, he was charged with possession of drugs, which he admitted to having found accidentally on the street. For this case, in the spring of 2023, Murnev was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence.

"Dad, we love you." Art by Mila Grabowski / Mediazona

Under the same pretext, other case participants were initially detained and arrested: Dudchenko and Buzmakov, who were captured on video by the FSB, as well as another friend of theirs, 37-year-old biker Rasim Bulgakov. Charges of petty hooliganism and drug possession, it seems, were necessary for the law enforcement only to keep Murnev and his friends behind bars while the FSB gathered evidence for another, more serious charge — preparing for a terrorist act by a group of individuals. Anna Murneva is convinced that the drugs were planted on her husband.

As a result, Nikolai Murnev, Sergey Dudchenko, and Kirill Buzmakov, who was born in Ukraine, were accused in the case of the failed terrorist act. Rasim Bulgakov, who got a suspended sentence for drug possession, was subsequently made a witness for the prosecution by the investigation. The only one who was lucky was the former police officer from Yessentuki, Vladimir Burmai. He managed to leave Russia before he was charged and declared wanted.

“Shoygu is a swamp scumbag.” What the bikers were discussing in their private chat

Sergey Dudchenko, a well-known motorcyclist in the Stavropol biker community, is described by the FSB as a fervent opponent of the “special military operation” and a “supporter of Nazi ideology” with the nickname Adolf, or Adik, which, incidentally, is reflected in his Instagram profile. Dudchenko himself explained to investigators that he got this nickname because he wore a leather coat, and instead of a helmet, he wore a German metal helmet while riding his motorcycle.

The former police officer, Vladimir Burmai, insists that no one ever called Dudchenko by the nicknames Adik or Adolf, and Dudchenko, in turn, never engaged in conversations about Nazism and fascism with friends.

Dudchenko did not hide his anti-war views and in early March 2022, even organised a solo motorcycle rally on his Yamaha with the Ukrainian flag. He later posted a photo from the event on his Instagram.

Since the end of 2021, Dudchenko had been administering a private chat named “1%” on Telegram. It consisted of just eight people — Dudchenko himself and his friends: Nikolai Murnev, Kirill Buzmakov, Vladimir Burmai, Rasim Bulgakov, Roman Nechaikin, Viktor Shaulov, and Dmitry Belyaev. What united them all was a passion for motorcycles: they organised motorcycle rallies, celebrated holidays together, and simply spent time in bars. According to the former police officer Burmai in a conversation with Mediazona, they hardly ever discussed politics, but everything changed after the war in Ukraine escalated.

In the indictment, quotes from chat messages, like “Glory to Ukraine!” and “Death to the Muscovites,” are interspersed with stories about trips out of town for shooting practice, discussions of videos with captured Russian soldiers, and comments on news related to the war. The bikers reposted memes about Putin, criticised the annexation of Crimea, and Dudchenko, for example, wrote that it was necessary to “cut the Russkies” and throw paint at advertising banners in support of the Russian army.

“Biden, I beg you, strike us, save us from this torment!” — quotes the investigator a message from one of the accused, Kirill Buzmakov.

“Oh boy, how much crap we have here in Russia, it’s going to take a long time to exterminate them,” Murnev wrote. In another message, he criticized the Ministry of Defense: “Look at them, they have Zaluzhny, a real man, a true soldier, while fucking Shoygu is a swamp scumbag.”

The bikers also discussed potential nuclear strikes on Russia, for example, how to survive afterwards, grow vegetables, and revive agriculture. The indictment also quotes a message from Kirill Buzmakov: in it, he admits that he would like a nuclear bomb to fall on Moscow and “destroy everyone” because he hates the capital and its residents. He also talked about a relative who fought in Donbass, calling him a “vatnik” [derogatory term for pro-Russian individuals].

“Fuck, I would participate in storming the bunker of the huylo,” Nikolai Murnev wrote on the evening of October 6. A few minutes later, Buzmakov replied: “I often have dreams like that. I chop off his head, but it slips out of my hand because there’s too little hair and it slips through my fingers. And I keep dropping it on the floor and can’t show it to the camera lens.”

“We were criticising our government. Well, as far as I know, the Constitution doesn’t forbid us to criticise the authorities, discuss them, and be dissatisfied with their actions,” the former police officer Vladimir Burmai explained later.

Nikolai Murnev’s wife believes that the investigator intentionally “pulled” the most emotional messages from the correspondence between her husband and his friends — without considering the overall context.

“We communicated as a whole crowd. We expressed our dissatisfaction, nowadays everyone is talking about this,” Nikolai told his wife.

“Reconnaissance” in the military enlistment office. How the criminal case on terrorism emerged

At some point, the FSB claims, during the backdrop of news about regularly burning military enlistment offices, the motorcyclists began to discuss whether they should organise something similar. However, the indictment does not provide quotes directly confirming this. Only once did the bikers discuss the news of an arson at one of the Russian military enlistment offices in the chat, as well as an attack on the military commissioner of Ust-Ilimsk in September 2022.

The idea of setting fire to the military enlistment office in Pyatigorsk was suggested by Sergey Dudchenko, FSB claims. Moreover, according to the investigation, Dudchenko, Vladimir Burmai, and Kirill Buzmakov specifically sent Nikolai Murnev to the military enlistment office to scout the situation and report back on how many people were guarding the building.

The security forces support their version with the testimony of a guard who noticed Murnev at the military enlistment office. The testimony states that Nikolai “was nervous, behaved strangely, was constantly looking around, closely observing everything, and walking through the corridors of the enlistment office.”

According to Anna Murneva, the real reason for her husband’s visit to the military enlistment office in Pyatigorsk was entirely different: on September 26, on the fifth day of mobilisation, Nikolai brought a certificate stating he was the father of four children.

That same day, Murnev told his friends in the chat that the enlistment office had no information about his fourth child and that the employees threatened to send him with a convoy to Crimea. “Wow, well, I’ll tell you later what’s happening there, it’s actually pretty interesting,” Murnev wrote.

A few hours later, Dudchenko asked his friend if there was any security or cameras at the entrance to the enlistment office. Nikolai’s response is not included in the case materials, but these questions were likely identified by the FSB as “investigation” at the military enlistment office.

Dudchenko, as well as the former police officer Burmai who left Russia, believe that the initial testimony against them was given by one of the chat participants — Viktor Shaulov, who also provided the security forces with all their correspondence. “He was talking such nonsense! He testified that we were all pagans, it turns out,” Vladimir Burmai shares.

The criminal case on the failed terrorist act began to be substantively heard in early February 2024 at the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don. “My father-in-law went to the hearing, but they didn’t let him in. He only managed to talk to my husband while waiting for the judge to arrive. He’s doing alright,” Anna Murneva told Mediazona.

The three biker friends, who ended up on the defendants’ bench, pleaded guilty during the investigation phase and agreed with the FSB’s depiction of the failed terrorist act in Pyatigorsk. Later, they all said that their confessions were extracted under torture.

“He looked like a piece of raw beaten meat.” The accused are talking about the tortures

Sergey Dudchenko was the first among the biker group to be detained in connection with the planned terrorist act in Pyatigorsk. This occurred on October 8, 2022 — the same day an explosive-laden truck exploded on the Crimea Bridge. The pretext for Dudchenko’s detention was the same as for his friends: minor hooliganism and drugs found on him after being taken to the police station. The biker claims that he was brutally tortured and humiliated by law enforcement both during and after his arrest.

Dudchenko worked as a security guard at one of the utility companies in Yessentuki. He was detained early in the morning, after a night shift. In court, he recounted how the law enforcement officers suddenly pounced on him and, without explanation, dragged him to one of their vehicles: “Someone particularly compassionate grabbed me by the hair, as I had long hair tied in a ponytail at the back of my head at the time. It’s an incomparable feeling when your body, weighing 118 kilograms, is dragged across the ground by the hair.”

Dudchenko was pulled into a UAZ Patriot car and asked to provide the password to his smartphone. After refusing to provide the password, they started beating him up, and then they put a bag over his head. “I started to suffocate and convulse. I tried to shake my head, but it was futile. Just when I thought I was going to suffocate, my tormentor’s grip loosened. He slightly adjusted the bag. I began to breathe again,” the biker recalled.

According to the motorcyclist, the unknown individuals in balaclavas repeated this procedure several times until someone said, “Stop, or he’s going to kick the bucket right now.”

Anna Murneva’s husband also spoke about being tortured. She met with him in the pre-trial detention centre a month after his arrest, in November 2022. According to her, his body was bruised, and there were scars on his neck. “He told me that when he was detained, they dragged him into a car and put a sack over his head, taping his fingers together with adhesive tape, then that same tape was on the [gasoline] bottles they found in our garage,” the woman claims.

Furthermore, Nikolai told his wife that he was “connected to some wires and electrocuted until he started feeling pain in his heart.” “They put moral pressure on him, threatened that our children would be sent to an orphanage, and that they would plant drugs on me or send me to a psychiatric hospital. Because of this, he was forced to sign confessions implicating himself and his friends,” Anna says. She claims her husband, unable to withstand the pressure, attempted suicide in the pre-trial detention center — something he told her during their visit.

The lawyer of the former police officer Vladimir Burmai also visited Murnev in the pre-trial detention centre. He returned from the detention centre with a photo of Nikolai. “He just showed me a picture of Murnev, and I didn’t even recognize who it was. That is, Murnev was beaten so badly that there wasn’t a single unharmed spot on his face. He looked like a piece of raw beaten meat,” Burmai claims in a conversation with Mediazona.

Kirill Buzmakov also confessed to preparing a terrorist act under torture. He described to Burmai how he was threatened with death and beaten up for six to seven hours: “To give you an idea of how the interrogation went. First, they threaten to punish you, in my case, they laid out bags in the corner of the office, made me kneel, and started playing with a gun, poking it at the back of my head. At the same time, they said that I was essentially already unnecessary because everyone had already testified against me. Literally, ‘I’m going to fucking blow your head off, you bitch.’”

Buzmakov insisted that the security forces had prepared the confessions themselves — all he had to do was sign them. He also mentioned a video in which he was forced to confess his sympathies for the Ukrainian Azov Regiment. As the man noted, the video was half an hour long, but the version released by the FSB was cut down to only his words about Buzmakov’s sympathy towards Azov.

The security forces were especially cruel with Dudchenko — according to him, the torture and abuse did not end even after his arrest.

At the police station, where the biker was brought after being detained, Dudchenko was forced to remove his jeans, allegedly for a drug trace examination, and was instead given women’s leggings. In those, he was transported to court, which sentenced Dudchenko to five days of administrative detention for minor hooliganism. After the court, Dudchenko was taken for a search. Eventually, his registered weapons were confiscated, and a cache with grenades was found. This was followed by an arrest on charges of drug possession. Dudchenko insists that the drugs and grenades were planted by the security forces. Nevertheless, he is being charged with several counts related to illegal arms trafficking and drug possession. The case has been separated into its own proceeding and has been under review by the Yessentuki City Court since last September.

The day after the arrest, security forces came for Dudchenko in the pre-trial detention centre. They put a bag over his head and shoved him into a car. Half an hour later, Dudchenko found himself “on the premises of some complex building,” and then apparently in a basement. There, they sat him on a chair, wrapped tape around his head over a bag, then removed his handcuffs and gave him a bottle of water, which, the biker claims, had some kind of “sedative” added to it — he recognized it by the distinctive taste. Dudchenko took eight to ten sips, after that his hands were taped.

Art by Mila Grabowski / Mediazona

“They asked me about my pain threshold, whether I was afraid of pain. After that, I was offered to sign a couple of documents and give the password to my mobile phone without resistance. For this, they would give me a cigarette, pour me coffee, feed me shawarma, and most importantly — it wouldn’t hurt. I said that I didn’t remember the password and wouldn’t sign anything without a lawyer,” Dudchenko recounted. “When I was saying this, my heart was about to jump out of fear. They lifted me from the chair, laid me down on my stomach, face down onto bare concrete.”

The alligator clips, usually used for charging car batteries, were attached to the man’s shins. “A couple of seconds later, the shock hit. Sparks flew before my eyes. My body arched, my heart felt like it was about to stop. Several people wearing boots were constantly pressing me down to the ground with their feet. Something was placed under my head so I wouldn’t crack my skull in convulsions. They also tried to press my head down to the ground with their boots during the shocks. Because when you’re being electrocuted, your limbs, head, hands, legs, spin uncontrollably. You can’t control yourself,” the man described the torture.

The people who tortured him, Dudchenko claimed, offered him to confess to being a “secret SBU agent,” and told him that his friends in neighbouring rooms had confessed to involvement in the explosion on the Crimea Bridge, although no such charges were actually brought against them. The ordeal ended that day, the motorcyclist recalls, with several objects being placed in his hands, and his fingers pressed against each of them.

A month and a half later, when transferred to another pre-trial detention centre, Dudchenko says, he was tortured again. At the end of November, he was again brought with a bag over his head to a semi-basement room resembling a gym — the man noticed some exercise equipment there. When the bag was removed, Dudchenko saw a table in front of him with two people sitting behind it, who began to interrogate him. Soon Dudchenko asked for a glass of water, but after drinking it, he felt sick: “I blacked out and only remember flashes of brief moments. Some people around, some papers in their hands, some objects. They were asking me some questions, and I was answering something.”

Later, he woke up in the same gym with a terrible headache. Dudchenko told the judge that on that day, he was strangled, beaten again, and also “had a piece of flesh cut out between his index and middle finger.” That day, he gave the security forces the password to his phone, but by that time, they already knew it — from their conversations, it was clear that Dudchenko had given it to them in a clouded state of consciousness. According to the defendant, they warned him at the end: if he told anyone about the torture, it would not end well for him and his family.

“They were supposed to kidnap me and plant drugs on me.” How a former policeman managed to flee to the USA

The only person who managed to avoid arrest was a former police officer, 39-year-old Vladimir Burmai. Before he was put on the wanted list, Burmai managed to flee to Georgia, and from there, he moved to the USA.

Burmai had worked for 15 years as the head of the licensing and permitting department at the Essentuki city police department and was friends with the other defendants in the criminal case. They were united not only by an interest in weapons and motorcycles but also by a critical attitude towards the Russian authorities, which only intensified after the war in Ukraine began.

Burmai says he became interested in politics back in 2018, after leaving the police force. The former officer liked Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption investigations, his wife said during an interrogation. She noted that they discussed the war as well, but it often led to arguments.

Based on the confessions of the members of the “1%” chat, the FSB attributed to Burmai much more extensive plans than just setting fire to a military enlistment office, up to capturing police departments and military units. “They laid out their wild fantasies on paper. And they [members of the chat] were just forced to sign it,” the former police officer is confident. However, the investigation did not include any evidence of preparation for the armed capture of state institutions in the indictment.

“Just think about it. We have [Rasim] Bulgakov, who didn’t even serve in the army, doesn’t know how to hold a weapon. Dudchenko, who didn’t serve in the army, he only knows how to hold a paintball gun, essentially. Shaulov didn’t serve in the army, he’s a complete noob,” the former police officer says.

A couple of days after Dudchenko’s detention, the police also came for Burmai. According to him, they turned his house upside down looking for evidence in the case of setting fire to the military enlistment office in Pyatigorsk, and he was given the status of a witness. “Of course, I didn’t calm down. I met with my friends at the FSB, with whom I had once worked. And they say, like, we went, talked, and, like, they found photos at Dudchenko’s place where you sit next to him in the car holding the Azov Regiment flag. I ask them: “Are you stupid? Guys, tell this nonsense to someone else.” But I believe they’re trying to catch me, they want me to slip up somewhere, that I’m guilty of something,” the former police officer tells Mediazona.

Soon, he learned from an acquaintance operative that they were also going to charge him as an accused. After that, Burmai says, he understood that he had to flee Russia.

“They were supposed to kidnap me, plant drugs on me, but first they had to transfer me to another department. Because in the department where I worked, nobody would even believe it [these accusations]. Well, although if they were given the order, they [Burmai’s former department] would have processed it too,” Burmai reflects. “There was the head of the police department, he’s chummy with the guys from internal security. I had two hours to pack up, get in the car, fly to the border, and at 1 a.m. I crossed the border. By morning, they put me under surveillance. And I wouldn’t have been able to leave. Just by some miracle, I managed to do so.”

Thus, on October 13, the former police officer found himself in Georgia, and a month later, his wife joined him. By mid-December, they crossed the Mexican border into the USA. Burmai says he was lucky here too — emigrating was facilitated by a long acquaintance with “a big man from Moscow,” whom he had once “helped well.” Thanks to that patron, Burmai and his wife were able to apply for political asylum. Now, the former police officer lives in the northwest of the country in Washington state and works as a truck driver.

Burmai insists that setting fire to the military enlistment office was never seriously planned, and the criminal case appeared only because the local FSB office needed to show initiative in the wake of the Crimea Bridge explosion — and find saboteurs within the country.

“I was able to buy a copy of the criminal case in court in its entirety. I spent a week sitting, studying it. As a lawyer, it’s easier for me to understand. I’ve never read such utter nonsense,” the former police officer claims. “It seems to me that even a schoolkid, a first-grader, would have fabricated the case more competently. But they didn’t have time. It seems these guys aren’t street kids; they’re seasoned sparrows, having fabricated dozens of cases. They could have concocted it less clumsily.”

Editor: Maria Klimova

Translator: Anna-Maria Tesfaye

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