The action – which was billed as a leaderless and apolitical “act
of unity” rather than a rally in order to avoid laws that require
political demonstrations to obtain permission from the city authorities –
passed off peacefully, but 10 people were later arrested after trying to
hold a politically-themed celebration of maslinitsa – the Russian
version of pancake day – on a central square near the Kremlin.
It was the latest in a series of tens-of-thousands-strong demonstrations
calling for clean elections and Prime
Minister Mr Putin’s ouster that have hit the Russian capital since
alleged fraud at parliamentary elections last December.
Many dressed in white or wore the white ribbons of the “fair elections”
movement that has erupted in the three months since flawed parliamentary
elections in December.
Those without ribbons waved white balloons, scarves and even plastic bags at
passing cars that honked their support for the action. One prominent human
rights activist even brought a white cat.
Police estimated 10,000 people had taken part in the action. Local media,
going on the assumption of two people per metre all around the road’s 9.3
mile circumference, estimated as many as 10,000 took part.
Many demonstrators admitted to anxiety that the unorthodox form of protest
would fail to attract enough people or be marred by confrontation with
pro-Putin youth groups and police.
“I was afraid no one would turn up. It’s fantastic to see so many people
with the same values,” said Natasha, a 28 year old child psychologist
who said she had come out “because I want my voice to count for
In a counter demonstration, activists from two pro-Kremlin youth movements,
Nashi (Ours) and Stal (Steel) were seen on one section of the ring road
wearing placards in the shape of hearts emblazoned with the slogan “Putin
The recent wave of dissent is unlikely to prevent Mr Putin from returning to
the Kremlin for a third time at presidential elections next Sunday, however.
The most recent opinion polls suggest he will win with up to 66 per cent of
the vote – comfortably more than the 50 per cent needed to avoid a second
round run-off with his closest rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.
But close Putin allies are said to have been sufficiently rattled by the
protests to press him to set a departure date after he returns to office.
“That would at a single stroke take the wind from the opposition’s sails,”
a former Putin aide told the Sunday Times. “People around him are
definitely discussing it. It would be a very smart move.”
Many people were hurt and had to go to hospitals because of stupidity!