A quiet Saturday morning in Moscow: the distant chime of bells at an Orthodox church and the faint hum of traffic traversing a nearby bridge reverberate around a near-empty Bolotnaya Square.
In the fleeting September warmth, the flowerbeds are blooming, the verges are well kept and a busload of tourists are busily snapping photos on the edge of this pleasant, tree-lined plaza not far from the Kremlin.
But like much in Russia today, first impressions can be deceptive. Bolotnaya’s seeming tranquillity belies the central role it played in the country’s growing repression of basic freedoms.
On 6 May 2012, a very different scene played out in this square.
Hundreds of riot police, kitted out in military-style camouflage and helmets, and wielding truncheons, charged into crowds of mostly peaceful anti-government protesters who had gathered on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s controversial return to power.