Putin victory fires up post-election protests

By bne IntelliNews March 6, 2012

Graham Stack in Moscow -

Around 20,000 protestors packed Moscow's Pushkin Square on the evening of March 6 to protest against Vladimir Putin's election to the Russian presidency. The protest was authorized by the city authorities and went off peacefully, with vitriolic rhetoric from all speakers directed against Putin personally. A hard core of protest leaders and tens of supporters remained on the square following the end of the rally and were detained by riot police.

Compared to the recent weekend rallies against Putin and the alleged electoral fraud at the December 4 parliamentary elections, the latest rally was both smaller and exhibited more bitterness in its accusations that electoral fraud and state control of media were behind the result in the presidential vote, which gave Putin 67% of the vote

The speakers - which featured a smorgasbord of pro-Soviet leftists, Russian nationalists and pro-Western liberals sharing the same stage - focused on the Putin boogeyman, with chants of 'Putin is a thief' and 'Put Putin in jail' ringing out. When one speaker called out to the crowd "What unites us?" and the crowd roared back "Putin," an ironic chuckle of self-recognition ran through the protestors.

Speakers made their points well, with former chess star Garry Kasparov getting the biggest laugh of the night with a reference to Putin's televised election-night tears. "They were tears of Botox!" Kasparov said, referring to rumours that 59-year old Putin had cosmetic surgery in 2011 in a bid to retain his youthful appearance. The star of the evening, being the only speaker to appeal equally to nationalists, leftists and liberals, was blogger Aleksei Navalny, who called for a campaign of civil disobedience.

The only presidential candidate to attend the event was oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who was second past the post in Moscow with around 20% of the vote while taking 8% of the national vote. Despite being one of Russia's richest businessmen, widely suspected as a Kremlin stooge, and remaining close friends with deputy prime minister Aleksander Khloponin, Prokhorov hurled invective at Putin and the Kremlin to no lesser an extent than shorn-headed Left Front activist, and head of the Avangard of Communist Youth, Sergei Udaltsov.

Following the rally and the peaceful dispersal of the crowd, Navalyni and Udaltsov joined Boris Nemtsov - the man who did a fine job of privatizing Russia's coal industry in the 1990s - to remain behind with tens of supporters, locking arms as they stood around the fountain in the centre of Pushkin Square to await the inevitable deployment of riot police. Seperately, a breakaway group of civil society activists managed a short walk along Tverskaya Boulevard, until the same fate befell them.

The next protest is planned for March 10, and the size and enthusiasm of this next weekend event will be crucial in influencing whether the anti-Putin protest movement continues its momentum. Spring may come soon to Moscow and lend the protests impetus.

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