Dangerous detour in Moscow as police order motorists to block getaway car

Moscow's top policeman apologised yesterday after his officers ordered passing motorists to park their cars across a main road to block a speeding getaway car filled with armed criminals.

Drivers on the Moscow ring road were stopped by traffic police early on Friday and told to form a barrier with their cars. The police did not explain why they were being stopped or warn them to get out. A few minutes later, an Audi smashed through the "shield", severely damaging at least two cars. The getaway car sped off chased by patrol cars.

When the owners of the ruined cars went to the traffic-police post for answers, they were told it was part of an operation to catch criminals, and that they would not be compensated for the damage. With nowhere to complain, one of the drivers, Stanislav Sutyagin, posted a video on YouTube detailing the events. "Is our life really worth nothing in this Russian state?" he asked. "It's an absolute disgrace."

He claimed that a man driving his wife to hospital to give birth owned one of the damaged cars. The video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times. Russia's Investigative Committee said yesterday that an investigation was being launched "after information has appeared in the media and on the internet". The head of Moscow's police, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, later apologised to the car owners.

It is the latest in a string of road incidents that have come to light only through internet campaigns. Last month, anger grew in the Siberian city of Irkutsk as it emerged that an adviser to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, who had ploughed her Toyota into two pedestrians and then checked her car for damage without as much as a look at the victims, was being treated as a witness rather than a suspect.

Two weeks ago, the Mercedes of the vice-president of Lukoil, Russia's biggest oil company, collided with a Citroë*carrying two women, both of whom were killed. Initially, the police said that the accident was the fault of the Citroën, but witnesses came forward to say that Anatoly Barkov's Mercedes had strayed into the opposite lane to avoid traffic.

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