Opposition Prepares for Mass Protest in Moscow

The Russian opposition is preparing for its first major demonstration since June, in what may be a telling indicator of the movement’s momentum after a summer hiatus.

Moscow city authorities sanctioned on Tuesday evening a march through central Moscow of up to 25,000, which will take place Saturday afternoon not far from the Kremlin. While some observers expect tens of thousands to attend, only around 3,200 people have confirmed their attendance on the event’s Facebook page.

The first major rally since June 12, Saturday’s demonstration arrives on the heels of opposition lawmaker Gennady Gudkov’s dismissal for his alleged business activities while serving in parliament, something banned under Russian law.

Critics have said the move against Gudkov, a member of the socialist A Just Russia party and a key organizer of earlier anti-Kremlin rallies, was politically engineered to punish and marginalize a prominent Vladimir Putin critic.

The march, dubbed by supporters and organizers as the “March of Millions,” will also take place a month after three members of the feminist punk group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for their raucous “punk prayer” inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February.

The trial grabbed international headlines and consolidated criticism against the Kremlin over what detractors said was a harsh punishment.

Shortly after the Pussy Riot trial, radical opposition activist Taisiya Osipova was sentenced to eight years in prison for what her supporters have claimed was a bogus drug bust. Police reportedly found four grams of heroin on Osipova, a member of the Other Russia movement, in 2010. Osipova maintains the drugs were planted.

It remains to be seen whether these recent developments will help swell Saturday’s protest.

Upon his expulsion vote on Friday, Gudkov warned against the Kremlin’s perceived crackdown on dissent, noting that it may lead to a civil crisis and a continuing drop in public trust in the ruling regime.

However, the intensity of anti-Kremlin rallies has fluctuated significantly after Putin’s March 4 election, with some rallies having attracted tens of thousands of protesters while others a mere couple thousand.

A parallel “March of Millions” is set to take place in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city.

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