U.S. Officials Cite ‘Nationwide Awakening’ In Russia

WASHINGTON — A U.S. State Department official says recent mass protests in Russia could represent a “nationwide awakening” among Russians who want more accountability from their government.

Protesters across Russia have staged a series of demonstrations accusing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party of rigging votes in the party’s favor during the December 4 parliamentary elections, which United Russia narrowly won. More major protest rallies are being organized for December 24.

At a hearing in the U.S. Senate on December 14 focusing on rule of law and corruption in Russia, Thomas Melia, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for democracy and human rights, said “the curtain has gone up on a new act” in Russia, though he said Russia’s future direction remains unclear.

Melia said Russia’s postelection protest movement “is a nationwide awakening, if you will, of citizens who want to see their government be accountable. They want to see elections that matter.”

At the same hearing, Senator Jeanne Shaheen accused the Kremlin of marking this month’s 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union “by manipulating elections and engineering a carefully orchestrated political switch” that would see Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev exchanging positions around next year’s presidential election.

Putin was limited by the Russian Constitution to two consecutive presidential terms ending in 2008, but he has officially launched a bid to return to the presidency in a move that critics fear might lead to political and economic stagnation.

Melia said Washington was encouraged about what he called “the peaceable way” in which Russian police handled protests on December 10 involving tens of thousands of demonstrators against the way the elections were run. He said Russian police have now demonstrated that they can facilitate large gatherings when instructed by their leaders to do so, and he urged Russian leaders to make this type of respect for free assembly the norm.

Putin has accused the United States of provoking the unprecedented postelection protests.

Analysts say Putin remains the favorite to win the presidency in the March election.

High time UK left EU?

The blame game continues in Europe over who is responsible for the high-level split over a new EU fiscal agreement. UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage believes it’s time for the British to decide whether they want to stay in the EU.

The British Prime Minister David Cameron, who slapped a firm ‘no’ on the deal, said it lacked sufficient financial safeguards for the UK.

However European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, called the decision “unfortunate” and said Britain itself had made compromise impossible by making demands that threatened the entire single market.

The United Kingdom in exchange for giving its agreement asked for a specific protocol on financial services which as presented were a risk to the integrity of the internal market. This made compromise impossible,” he told European lawmakers in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

He also remarked that most countries tried hard to reach an accord of all 27 EU states.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told RT that British citizens may soon ask for a referendum to get out of the EU.

The myth that the UK can be in Europe but not run by Europe has died after the Friday vote over the fiscal deal, he claimed.

We now find ourselves in a position where we are outvoted by 26 to 1. We are in a hopeless minority and yet we still have 75 per cent of our laws that run the United Kingdom made in these institutions.”

Cameron not wishing to do this has now opened up the real debate in the UK about our European future,” he said.

‘Prokhorov seeks to articulate the democratic mood’

Mikhail Prokhorov’s decision to run in next year’s presidential election may signal a new era of political pluralism in Russia. And while the billionaire’s shot at victory is uncertain, experts say the Russian electorate will win out come March

­When billionaire entrepreneur and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov was elected to head the Right Cause Party this June, his political aspirations were modest.  When asked about any presidential ambitions in an exclusive Interview with RT, Prokhorov replied, “I am not the kind of person who tends to dream or plunge into illusions.”

It’s amazing what six months can do.  When Russia’s third richest man resigned from Right Cause in September, he decried it for being a “puppet party” whose strings were being pulled behind the Kremlin walls. 

But as this past weekend has shown, Russia has come a long way over the last 20 years. While Prokhorov was ready to throw in the towel just three months ago, his political pessimism soon gave way to hope.

When tens of thousands filled the streets of Moscow on Saturday to rally against alleged violations in the State Duma elections, many protestors appeared frustrated that the leaderless movement had not coalesced into a viable political force. 

Speaking with RT, Martin McCauley, a Russia specialist at the University of London, believes Prokhorov might attempt to become the voice for middle-class urbanites looking to be heard.  

“He may in fact attract the new urban class in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg and places like that, some of the people who were demonstrating last week, the young professionals, the under 35s and so on. They want a voice,McCauley says, as well as the opportuntiy “to participate in policy-making – and they think their voices are not being listened to, and they think they are the future of Russia.”

However, Alexander Rahr, the director of the Russia-Eurasia Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations, contends that as an independent candidate, Prokhorov has little chance of being a contender come March 4.  

“I doubt that Prokhorov will get enough followers,” Rahr said. “He needs a party, he needs a movement. He has the money to conduct a campaign, but he needs the people who will operate for him.”

Rarh continued: “He has the money to do all kinds of things in Russia, but money’s not enough to win or even to do well in presidential elections.  If he won’t get a party behind him, I think he has no chance even to be registered for the presidential election.”

However, McCauley remains optimistic that Prokhorov still has a shot of getting the upwardly-mobile to rally around him in the upcoming months. And regardless of how Prokhorov ultimately fairs as he takes on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the 2012 presidential elections, what really matters is that the Russian political climate is changing for the better. 

“The election in March will be much more interesting than it was four years ago, when it was a foregone conclusion who would win,” McCauley says.“So you will have various candidates with an opportunity to put forward their views and actually participate with the population, and the young urban elites will hope that there will be real participation; that they’ll be able to articulate their views. Prokhorov will enter into debate with them, and articulate his views, and he can present that as policy and say, ‘this is what these people want, and I’m a democratic candidate, and I’m articulating the democratic mood.’”

Billionaire Prokhorov Announces Kremlin Bid, As Kudrin Calls For Liberal Party

One of Russia’s richest men and the architect of an abortive bid this year to launch a center-right political party, billionaire playboy Mikhail Prokhorov, now says he will challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in next year’s presidential election.

Prokhorov called the move “the most important decision in my life.”

“I’m going to run for president,” he announced to journalists.

Prokhorov, who controls the Polys Gold metals mining company, was ranked as one of Russia’s top five billionaires by “Forbes” magazine and was estimated to have a fortune of $18 billion in 2010.

Prokhorov is the former leader of the business-oriented Right Cause party, which finished with less than 1 percent of the vote in last week’s parliamentary elections. Prokhorov resigned from the party in September.

“As you remember, the Kremlin removed me and my comrades from Right Cause and we could not accomplish what we wanted. It is not my habit to stop halfway,” Prokhorov told reporters in announcing his presidential bid.

Kudrin Calls For Liberal Party

Putin has long been Russia’s most popular politician, but was forced under the constitution to stand down in 2008 after two consecutive terms as president. He recently announced his plan to run in the March presidential election.

Meanwhile, former Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, a longtime Putin ally, has called for the creation of a liberal party to fill a void in Russian politics after the recent parliamentary voting.

“This election has shown a deficit of political forces or structures that would defend liberal, democratic values. And this deficit has proven to be more acute than we could have imagined 12 or six months ago,” Kudrin said.

“So today, one can say with certainty that this deficit is so significant and the demand for the creation of such a structure is so high that it will be created.”

Tens of thousands of Russians protested on December 10 over the outcome of the December 4 parliamentary elections that the opposition says were rigged in favor of the ruling United Russia party.

More protests are planned, and the Kremlin has made some concessions — at least symbolic ones — in the face of mounting questions about the voting.

Observers say Kudrin’s proposal could offer a way for Putin to channel discontent.

Kudrin also warned that the legitimacy of a presidential election Putin is expected to win in March would be undermined by any failure to address protesters’ allegations of fraud in the parliamentary elections.

Kudrin’s comments came in an interview with “Vedomosti.”

compiled from agency and RFE/RL reports

Nets’ Mikhail Prokhorov to run for Russian presidency

MOSCOW — After a week of surprising challenges to his authority, Vladimir Putin faces a new one from one of Russia’s richest and most glamorous figures — the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets says he will run against Putin in March’s presidential election.

Mikhail Prokhorov’s announcement Monday came just hours after another Russian economic star, Putin’s former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, said he was ready to work to form a new party.

The declarations underline the extent of the discontent with the man who has dominated Russian politics for a dozen years, coming on the heels of Saturday’s unprecedented nationwide protests. Tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets to denounce alleged election fraud favoring Putin’s United Russia in Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.


The fraud and the party’s comparatively poor showing in the elections — losing about 20 percent of its seats, though it retained a narrow majority — galvanized long-marginalized opposition forces to conduct a startling series of demonstrations, including an enormous rally in Moscow of at least 30,000.

At a news conference announcing his candidacy, Prokhorov refrained from criticizing Prime Minister Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev, but said “society is waking up.”

“Those authorities who will fail to establish a dialogue with society will have to go,” he declared.

Medvedev has promised on his Facebook page that the alleged vote fraud will be investigated. But Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, predicted Monday the probe will show that little vote fraud occurred and that it had no effect on the outcome.

Peskov’s comment signaled that Putin — who served as Russia’s president in 2000-2008 and stepped over to the premiership because of term limits — is holding firm, despite the protests that were the largest in post-Soviet Russia.

It is unclear how effective a challenger the 46-year-old Prokhorov might prove to be. His wealth, estimated by Forbes magazine at $18 billion, and his playboy reputation may turn off voters who resent the gargantuan fortunes compiled by tycoons even as countless Russians struggled through the economic chaos of the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed.

The 46-year-old bachelor is known for lavish parties and occasional scandal. He and some guests were arrested at a Christmas party in the French Alpine resort of Courchevel in 2007 for allegedly arranging for prostitutes; but he was soon released without charges.

Prokhorov made his fortune in metals and banking and became majority stakeholder in the New Jersey Nets last year. Since then, he has traveled widely to build a global fan base for team, in the process showing off his towering 6-foot-8 (203-centimer) frame and excellent command of English.

The 51-year-old Kudrin lacks that kind of flash, but as finance minister under both Putin and Medevedev he earned wide respect for his economic acumen. Kudrin was widely credited with softening the blow of the 2008-09 global downturn in Russia with his conservative fiscal policies. During Putin’s presidency from 2000-08, Kudrin set up a rainy day fund to stash some of the revenue from Russia’s oil exports. The idea angered many in the government who sought higher spending, but it ultimately proved to be an invaluable cushion.

In an interview with the business newspaper Vedomosti published Monday, Kudrin said the country needed a new liberal party and “I am to assist” in creating it.

Kudrin was fired in September for saying that he would not serve if Medvedev became premier after Medvedev agreed to step aside, become prime minister and allow Putin to run for another term. The decision by Medvedev and Putin to effectively swap positions was seen by critics as cynical and antidemocratic, so Kudrin’s dismissal could give him a principled aura.

Prokhorov said he hopes to win the support of Russia’s growing middle class, which formed the core of Saturday’s demonstrations. However, he said he agrees with only some of the anti-Putin and anti-government slogans shouted at rallies. He also did not say whether he plans to attend a follow-up protest in Moscow later this month.

He is one of several candidates who have said they will oppose Putin in the presidential election, including Communist chief Gennady Zyuganov, who has finished second in past presidential elections.

Prokhorov’s presidential bid follows his botched performance in the parliamentary race when he formed a liberal party under tacit support of the Kremlin, then abandoned the project under what he called Kremlin pressure.

He has personally blamed Vladislav Surkov, a presidential deputy chief of staff, for staging a mutiny within that party’s ranks. “I can solve that problem by becoming his boss,” Prokhorov said, referring to Surkov’s possible opposition to his presidential bid.

Prokhorov now faces the immediate challenge of collecting the 2 million signatures required to qualify for the presidential race. A number of opposition candidates and parties in the past could not even run for parliamentary seats because their applications were turned down for technical reasons.

Prokhorov also is not the first of Russian’s superrich to have ambitious political goals. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, has been in prison since 2003 on tax evasion and embezzlement charges that are widely seen as a punishment for having challenged Putin’s power.

The influential Russian Orthodox Church has also weighed in on the brewing controversy over the elections.

“Very serious questions have been raised, however uncomfortable for the authorities. We will hope that the authorities respond to them adequately and honestly,” church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin told the Interfax news agency.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

For Russia, this is the end of an era | Jonathan Steele

Russia and its power-hungry leader Vladimir Putin are still reeling. The results of last week’s parliamentary elections were a surprise, not just because of his party’s low level of popularity but because they were allowed to happen.

In a totally controlled system his United Russia party would have won easily. But Putin has erected a facade of nominally democratic institutions and they went out of control. While there was clearly a great deal of cheating, United Russia won less than half the votes, with the electorate expressing massive alienation from the ruling elite.

How that alienation plays out in the presidential election in March is the next major issue. The protests in scores of cities on Saturday are being treated less violently by the police and more respectfully by state-controlled TV than in the past. Will Putin continue this softer approach as the March poll approaches? If he fails to get half the votes there will be a second round in which victory for him is not guaranteed, although no doubt his ballot-stuffers will work harder than last week.

The central lesson of last week’s result is that Russia’s post-Yeltsin era has ended. After the collapse in living standards and the wholesale privatisation of the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin and the political turbulence of his constant battles with the Duma, Putin emasculated the parliament and returned the country to stability. Surging oil and gas prices allowed enough cash to trickle down to wages and pensions to create an illusion of creeping prosperity.

Russia now faces annual budget deficits like almost every other major economy. Findings by the respected pollsters VTsIOM in November showed 53% citing low living standards as their top priority, with inflation, unemployment and poor healthcare running close behind. Nearly 40% complained of bureaucracy and corruption.

After last week’s election Putin and his colleagues not only have to deliver economic growth and better social services, they have to bring in the rule of law for citizens as well as for businesses. This is not quite the same as democracy and human rights, which the VTsIOM poll showed to be important for only 9% of respondents.

There is much facile talk that Russia needs a middle class to anchor democracy, even though there is no automatic linkage between the two. China and Singapore are prominent examples of countries with authoritarian systems and a large middle class. Russia’s trouble is the absence of law, with its clear and enforceable rules. The communist system collapsed in part because many of its previous defenders travelled abroad and wanted the consumer goods and the modernity as well as the intellectual freedom they saw. Russia’s post-Soviet generation travels and studies abroad in much vaster numbers. They feel shamed by their rulers’ criminality.

No wonder so many young Russians choose to emigrate when they see how justice is administered selectively, the rich pay no tax and officials charge fees for services that should be normal civic entitlements. Vladimir Pozner, a well-known TV presenter, was right to say recently that many Russians have “a feeling of being totally unprotected”. Igor Yurgens, head of the Institute of Contemporary Development (and a former supporter of president Dmitry Medvedev) complained that the Kremlin “underestimated the gap between a society that has become sophisticated and advanced and the feudal relations that operate at the upper echelons of state power”.

It will take a large and sustained shift in elite attitudes for the problem to be rectified. But if Putin has any sense, last week’s majority vote against his party will have got the ball rolling.

Poll protests continue in Russian regions

Authorized and unauthorized protests against alleged electional fraud continued in several Russian cities on Sunday, RIA Novosti correspondents reported.

The largest sanctioned rally was held in Perm, a city in the Urals, which gathered some 800 people instead of 300 permitted by the police.  Two people were detained.

The demonstrators signed a resolution demanding the dismissal of Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov and the local election commission chief.

About 300 protesters gathered for an unsanctioned rally on a central square in Omsk (west Siberia), which yesterday saw a 1,000-people strong rally.

Only 120-150 people came to protest against poll results in Russia’s third largest city, Novosibirsk, where more than 3,500 rallied on Saturday.

Police reported that all rallies were peaceful and did not last long.

Meanwhile, activists in the town of Apatity in the northern Murmansk Region decided to stage an unusual toy rally since they failed to gain permission from authorities.

Toys from Kinder Surprise chocolate egg with slogans attached to toothpicks were acting as protesters in Apatity. According to organizers, who called the event “a nano rally”, such demonstrators could not be dispersed but are likely to attract public attention.

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia took place on December 10 across the country, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Organizers say they the protests may continue next weekend and probably on December 24-25.

United Russia saw its share of the vote fall sharply in the December 4 polls, although it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority. But opposition activists claim the party’s real figures were much lower.

The largest rallies to demand a rerun of last weekend’s parliamentary polls and vent anger at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party were held in Moscow (at least 20,000 participants) and St. Petersburg (7,000).

Poll protests in eastern Russia

Hundreds of people have gathered in different cities across Russia on Saturday to protest against alleged electoral fraud in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, RIA Novosti correspondents reported from the scene.

Some 1,000 people rallied in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul, about 200 at the central square in Chita and several hundreds of people in Krasnoyarsk, Russia’s Siberia, and more than 50 people came to an unsanctioned rally in Russia’s Far East city of Khabarovsk, RIA correspondents reported.

Khabarovsk officials did not give permission to hold a protest. The head of the Khabarovsk regional administration Interior Ministry Andrey Sergeev said on Friday that the police would apply strict measures to the participants in unauthorized rallies.

The police detained about 20 people during the rally, RIA Novosti correspondent reported.

Similar protests – both sanctioned and unsanctioned – are expected to take place later in the day in dozens of cities across Russia, as well as in some 20 other countries.

Some 30,000 people intend to take part in an authorized rally in Moscow, which is expected to become the largest public protest in Russia in almost a decade.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that citizens “should be given a right to express their opinion” if they are “acting within law.” But if they do break the rules, he said, the authorities should take action “by legal means.”


Communists slam Duma vote

The Russian Communist party (KPRF) called Sunday’s parliamentary election illegitimate and pledged to challenge its results in courts, the party said on its official website on Saturday.

“KPRF states that the passed State Duma elections were unfair and non-free. We consider them illegitimate from a moral and political point of view,” the statement, signed by the party leader Gennady Zyuganov, said.

The ruling United Russia party won Sunday’s State Duma elections and will have 238 seats in the new State Duma. The result means Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party has lost 77 seats, but just retains a parliamentary majority. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation will have 92 seats, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) 56 and A Just Russia 64 seats.

Communist Party said it does not recognize, in particular, the announced results in the republics of Mordovia, Dagestan, Tyva, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Communists also named Tambov, Saratov, Rostov, Tula Region, Krasnodar, St. Petersburg and Moscow region as places where, in their opinion, the vote had been seriously manipulated. KPRF Legal Service has prepared statements and appeals to the courts and law enforcement agencies against thousands of alleged violations during Sunday’s parliamentary election, the statement said.

“KPRF demands to cancel the vote in the regions, municipalities, precincts, where serious violations of electoral law were committed,” the statement said.

In addition, KPRF demands for the resignation of the Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov as he was “unable to organize a fair and clean election”.

The Communists also think that the State Duma should create a parliamentary commission to investigate irregularities in the election.

Vote protest rallies take place on Saturday in more than 40 cities across Russia, as well as in some 20 other countries.

The largest protest is expected to take place in Moscow on Saturday afternoon. Some 30,000 people intended to participate in the demonstration, which has been authorized by the authorities.


Russia faces nationwide vote protests

Voters took to the streets Saturday across Russia to protest elections they charge were rigged in favor of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, a mass demonstration of public anger not seen in years and a critical test for the country’s leadership.

The rolling, nationwide demonstrations came a day after Russian election authorities announced the final official results of legislative elections of December 4, giving United Russia 238 seats in the 450-seat State Duma with just under 50 percent of the popular vote.

Around 1,000 people rallied in the southern Siberian city of Barnaul while smaller crowds numbering in the hundreds turned out in the cities of Krasnoyarsk, Vladivostok, Chita and Khabarovsk in eastern Russia, RIA Novosti correspondents reported from those cities.

The largest crowd however was expected in Moscow, where city officials gave permission for several demonstrations including one by those angry over the results of the elections for up to 30,000 people. A demonstration was also planned for Russia’s second largest city of St. Petersburg.

According to the latest police reports, between 20,000 and 25,000 of the expected 30,000 protesters have so far gathered at the venue in downtown Moscow.

The co-chairman of the Party of People’s Freedom, Vladimir Ryzhkov, announced from the stage in downtown Moscow that 40,000 people have gathered to protest with another 10,000 from Revolution Square making their way to the main venue.

A RIA Novosti correspondent said the crowd has begun chanting “Putin Out!”

Security was tight in the Russian capital, where several hundred people had gathered on a square near the Kremlin and planned to make their way to a different location further from the center of the city where the largest demonstration was to take place.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said ahead of the demonstrations that all Russians had the right to assemble and express their political views publicly, but warned that security forces would use “all legal methods” to maintain law and order.

The December 4 vote polarized Russian society, with Putin and supporters describing the outcome as a “real” reflection of the mood in the country while others – both Russian political activists and international observers – saying the vote was slanted in United Russia’s favor.

Although United Russia won nearly half the popular vote, the election was a huge setback for the “party of power” and Putin directly accused the United States of seeking to stir up trouble in Russian politics after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the conduct of the vote.

“People in our country don’t want the situation in Russia to develop like it did in Kyrgyzstan and, not so long ago, in Ukraine,” Putin said Thursday. “Nobody wants chaos.”

He was referring to popular uprisings, referred to in Russia as “color revolutions,” that led to the downfall of leaders in both former Soviet republics and another, Georgia, which he did not mention.

Meanwhile, the Communist Party announced in a statement posted on its website Saturday that it does not recognize the results of the elections in many Russian regions, including the North Caucasus republics and the largest cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, citing massive violations there.

“We consider the vote illegitimate from the moral and political points of view,” the party’s presidium said in the statement.

Another political party, the liberal Yabloko party, separately vowed to contest the results of the December 4 elections in court.

Disgruntlement over the polls saw some 5,000 protesters rally in central Moscow on Monday. Demonstrations continued across Russia, although on a smaller scale, for the next two evenings.

Some 1,000 people have so far been detained in protests, police said, including influential blogger and opposition activist Alexei Navalny.

Navalny, along with another opposition leader, Ilya Yashin, was jailed for 15 days on Tuesday as a result of their participation in Monday’s unsanctioned protest.

The protests have been largely ignored by state-run televisions channels, which chose instead to broadcast images of United Russia supporters parading near the Kremlin. Demonstrations have been organized via Facebook and Vkontakte, a popular internet social networking site. Vkontakte’s founder, Pavel Durov, said this week he had refused a request by the security services to deactivate accounts belonging to opposition groups.


Russian regions say vote protests largely peaceful

Authorized and unauthorized protests in dozens of Russian cities, in which at least 60,000 people across the country are estimated to take part, were largely peaceful.

“According to the Interior Ministry’s emergency response center, unauthorized protests were held in a number of Russian regions. During most of them, protestors left the area after warnings by police that their actions were against the law,” an interior ministry spokesman said.

Demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud in favor of the ruling United Russia took place across the country, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. Organizers say they the protests may continue next weekend and probably on December 24-25.

United Russia saw its share of the vote fall sharply in the December 4 polls, although it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority. But opposition activists claim the party’s real figures were much lower.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election was marked by a “lack of fairness” and “slanted” in favor of United Russia. The Russian electoral commission has said the vote was fair and valid, though President Dmitry Medvedev has said accusations of cheating must be investigated.

The largest rallies to demand a rerun of last weekend’s parliamentary polls and vent anger at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party were held in Moscow (at least 20,000 participants), St. Petersburg (7,000) and Novosibirsk (3,000).

A spokesman for St. Petersburg police department said the rally “ended without serious incidents”. About 10 people were detained during the sanctioned rally at the Pionerskaya Square. Later, police detained 20 out of some 50 protestors who gathered for an unauthorized event at the Senatskaya Square.

No arrests were reported in Russia’s third largest city, Novosibirsk, although the event gathered three times more than it was previously expected.

From 1,000 to 1,500 people are estimated to take part in protests in four major regional centers. In the Siberian city of Tomsk and Chelyabinsk in the Urals the rallies were authorized and no detentions or violence took place. No detentions were also made during an unsanctioned rally in southwest Siberia’s Omsk. In the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, where 100 people attended a sanctioned rally and ten times more gathered for an unauthorized event, 20 people were detained but released shortly after, according to the city’s police sources.

Protestors organized themselves via social networking sites, and, according to them, protests all across Russia were to gather about 150,000 people, including 12,000 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, 11,000 in St. Petersburg and 6,000 in Siberia’s Novosibirsk.

In the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk police detained 38 people from about six dozens who gathered for an unauthorized rally.

Some 15 people were detained in the Urals city of Perm and about 35 during an unsanctioned rally in Syktyvkar west of Urals. Detentions were also made at an unauthorized rally in South Russia’s Pyatigorsk.

In Kazan, the capital of the Volga Republic of Tatarstan, police surrounded people who gathered for an unsanctioned protest and asked them to leave the place. They started to disperse the rally only 2.5 hours later and a dozen of protestors were detained.

Regional media say protests in other cities went on rather peacefully, and in Central Russia’s Voronezh police and protestors even shook hands with each other after the rally was over.

United Russia retains parliamentary majority

Russia’s governing party, United Russia, will have 238 seats in the new State Duma following Sunday’s parliamentary elections, Central Electoral Commission deputy head Leonid Ivlev said on Friday.

The result means Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party has lost 77 seats, but just retains a parliamentary majority.

United Russia enjoyed a two-thirds majority in the previous parliament, giving it the ability to rewrite the Constitution at will.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation will have 92 seats, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) 56 and A Just Russia 64 seats.

Turnout was 60.21 percent, Ivlev said.

The elections were marred by allegations of widespread electoral fraud in favor of United Russia.

President Dmitry Medvedev has said the claims need to be looked into.

A poll protest rally is expected to draw some 30,000 people in Moscow on Saturday. The day after the election saw Moscow’s largest opposition demonstration for over a decade, with around 5,000 people in attendance.


Russia braces for biggest protests of Putin era

Public anger over alleged electoral fraud in favor of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party is expected to bring thousands out onto the streets of Russia on Saturday in the largest demonstrations here for almost two decades.

Protest rallies – both sanctioned and unsanctioned by the authorities – are planned for some one hundred Russian cities and towns, from the European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast.

But the biggest demonstration is to take place in Moscow, where city authorities have given permission for a 30,000-strong rally at Bolotnaya Square, across the Moskva river from the Kremlin.

The Moscow demonstration was originally set to go ahead at the much smaller – although far more central – Revolution Square. A number of opposition groups have vowed to rally there regardless of the decision to relocate the protest, raising the specter of clashes with police. Putin warned earlier in the week that police would crack down on illegal demonstrations.

Putin also accused the United States of being behind the protests, saying that criticism of last Sunday’s parliamentary polls by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “set the tone for some opposition activists” and also “gave them a signal.”

“People in our country don’t want the situation in Russia to develop like it did in Kyrgyzstan and, not so long ago, in Ukraine,” Putin also said. “Nobody wants chaos.”

While the polls saw Putin’s United Russia party suffer its worst ever result, it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary majority. But allegations have since surfaced – included dozens of video clips uploaded onto the Internet – of ballot-stuffing and other electoral procedure violations. President Dmitry Medvedev has said the claims of fraud will be investigated.

Disgruntlement over the polls saw some 5,000 protesters rally in central Moscow on Monday. Demonstrations continued across Russia, although on a smaller scale, for the next two evenings. Some 1,000 people have so far been arrested in protests, police said, including influential blogger and opposition activist Alexei Navalny. It was Navalny who coined United Russia’s popular, unofficial nickname – “The Party of Swindlers and Thieves.”

Navalny, along with another opposition leader, Ilya Yashin, was jailed for 15 days on Tuesday.

The protests have been largely ignored by state-run televisions channels, which chose instead to broadcast images of United Russia supporters parading near the Kremlin. Demonstrations have been organized via Facebook and Vkontakte, a popular Internet social networking site. Vkontakte’s founder, Pavel Durov, said this week he had refused a request by the security services to deactivate accounts belonging to opposition groups.

Russia’s chief doctor, Gennady Onishchenko, urged Russians on Friday not to attend the demonstrations, saying the “cold weather” and the “large groups of people” meant they would be in danger of contracting influenza.


Putin names his presidential campaign chief

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has picked filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin to run his campaign in next year’s presidential elections.

Speaking to supporters on Thursday, Putin said he wants to use an amorphous group he launched in May, the All-Russia People’s Front, as the basis of his campaign.

“I would like to create my [presidential campaign headquarters] at the offices of the All-Russia People’s Front, an organization that is above parties, that unites all the people of the Russian Federation,” the prime minister said.

Govorukin, a veteran director and a one-time dissident, delivered a passionate eulogy to “Vladimir Vladimirovich” at a glitzy United Russia congress last month.

The former KGB agent appears to be trying to distance himself from his United Russia party, which won Sunday’s parliamentary election but with a much reduced majority.

Putin said he had “warm feelings” for the party which he set up in the early 2000s but added that he wanted a quarter of its fraction in the lower house to be represented by “non-party members of the All-Russia People’s Front.”

Earlier this week, the prime minister’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told BBC Russia that Putin “had never been directly linked to the party.”

There have been rallies in Moscow and other cities against alleged fraud in Sunday’s parliamentary vote, most of it in favor of United Russia.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had earlier said the election was “slanted in favor of United Russia.”

Nearly one thousand people have been arrested in three days of protests and the biggest rally yet is scheduled for Saturday, with tens of thousands of people signing up to it on social networks such as Facebook and Vkontakte.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Wednesday called for a re-run of the election.

“The country’s leaders must admit there were numerous falsifications and rigging, the results do not reflect the people’s will,” he told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Moscow government authorizes 30,000-strong opposition rally

Opposition activists have been allowed to hold a 30,000-strong rally in downtown Moscow on Saturday to protest the results of the December 4 parliamentary elections, a deputy mayor of the Russian capital said.

“The rally organizers agreed to hold the rally on Bolotnaya Square offered to them by Moscow authorities in order to ensure that security measures are observed,” Deputy Mayor Alexander Gorbenko told journalists.

Earlier the opposition planned to hold the rally in another place in the capital’s center, on Revolution Square, but the number of people the Moscow administration authorized to come was 300. As thousands had voiced their intention to take part, the city government changed the venue.

The ruling United Russia party won Sunday’s State Duma elections with 49.3 percent of the vote. The Communist Party received 19.2 percent, A Just Russia, 13.25 percent, and the Liberal Democrats, 12 percent. Other parties did not clear the 7-percent election threshold. Thousands of people went out to protest the results on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and hundreds were detained.

Some observers and critics claimed the vote was slanted in favor of the governing party and cited ballot stuffing at certain polling places. President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied vote rigging, saying the elections were fair.

Gorbenko said the rally was authorized to be held from 2 p.m. Moscow time (1100 GMT) to 6 p.m. Moscow time (1500 GMT).

Boris Nemtsov, a co-chairman of the unregistered Parnas opposition party, confirmed to the Echo of Moscow radio that the organizers agreed to the changed terms.


Russian social network rebuffs FSB request to close ‘opposition’ accounts

Russia’s most popular social network was asked by the country’s domestic security agency to deactivate accounts of groups that contained posts calling for street protests, but the company rejected the request, a spokesman said Thursday.

“We received a request from the FSB to stop the activity of Vkontakte groups calling for riots and a revolution,” Vladislav Tsyplukhin, spokesman for social network VKontakte, wrote on his corporate web page.

“We explained in response that we have been following those groups and cannot block them as a whole just because some individual users have called for violence,” Tsyplukhin wrote.

The accounts of specific users who have explicitly called for public disorder however are being blocked by the company, he said, adding that there had not been any excessive “pressure, threats or rudeness” from the Federal Security Service (FSB) in its requests.

Contacted by RIA Novosti, the FSB declined to provide comment on the reported request.

Tsyplukhin’s comments came after the administrator of popular Russian anti-corruption website RosPil published a report on Thursday in which he quoted Vkontakte founder Pavel Durov as saying that the FSB had asked him to shut down “opposition” accounts.

The report, which came amid ongoing protests against the results of Sunday’s parliamentary vote, went viral over Russian internet blogs and online media.

“Over the past few days, the FSB has been asking us to block opposition groups, including yours,” Durov was quoted as informing the administrator of the RosPil website, which is operated by controversial Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.

“We don’t do this on principle. I don’t know how it can affect us, but we are sticking to our position,” Durov wrote in his message to the administrator, adding: “Vkontakte is a 100-percent apolitical company. We support neither the authorities nor the opposition, and no particular political party.”

Representatives of other Russian social networks said they had not been contacted by the FSB.

As of Thursday, more than10 accounts have been registered on Vkontakte where users discuss the alleged fraud during Sunday’s elections, in which the pro-Kremlin United Russia party gained around 50 percent of the vote, and preparations for a protests rally to be held in Moscow on Saturday.

Similar rallies have already taken place in Moscow and St. Petersburg earlier this week, including protests on Monday and Tuesday in central Moscow, in which several thousand people took part.

The Russian authorities have declared the elections fair and democratic, while the OSCE pointed to “flagrant procedural violations” during the polls, including cases of ballot-stuffing, “a convergence of the state and the governing party,” limited political competition and a lack of fairness.

Sociologists: Opposition more popular in cyberspace

Most Russians do not trust the non-parliamentary opposition which is now leading an active campaign against alleged falsifications of the State Duma elections, a sociological study has revealed.

­The survey was conducted by the independent analytical Levada Center a week before the parliamentary election. It showed that 58% of respondents have no trust in the leaders of the non-parliamentary opposition, more commonly known as the “non-system opposition.” The leader of the unregistered party Parnas, Boris Nemtsov, has the support of 3% of Russians. The rating of Parnas co-chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov stands at the same figure, while another co-chairman, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, has even fewer supporters – just 2%. Another 2% say they share the ideas of Garry Kasparov, leader of the social-democratic movement, the Unified Civil Front. Anti-corruption activist and blogger Aleksey Navalny and Ilia Yashin from the Solidarity movement for democratic values enjoy the support of around 1% of the population.

“All these politicians are well-known among active internet users, but they are much less known by the general public across Russia,” the deputy head of the Levada Center, Aleksey Grazhdankin, explained to Kommersant daily.
Given the insignificant influence of the “non-system” opposition, parliamentary opposition parties do not see them as real political allies. On Wednesday Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko party which has not made it to the State Duma, called on Communists, Lib Dems and Fair Russia to give up their newly-won Duma seats – a move with would make a rerun of the elections inevitable.  The Liberal-Democratic party and Fair Russia responded immediately and unequivocally — they refused to do so. The Communists cautiously said that giving up seats would not be a problem but the consequences of such a move should be carefully considered.

Political analysts believe that this week’s protests will influence the course of the presidential campaign by linking the idea of “unfair elections” with the United Russia party. Consequently, this will affect the chances of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has been nominated for the presidency by the ruling party and who has already served two presidential terms.
Sociologists are of the opposite opinion, saying that the influence of the non-system opposition will soon fade with the protest mood and most likely die out by the time of the presidential poll.

Medvedev ‘tweet’ sends the Russian blogosphere into a frenzy

It was a late-night tweet that shook the Russian internet – did President Dmitry Medvedev really retweet a post implying jailed opposition activist Alexey Navalny was a “cocksucking sheep”?

According to the Kremlin, he did not. Russian internet users are not so sure. The tweet came hours after riot police and pro-Kremlin youth activists put down a second protest against disputed parliamentary election results and Vladimir Putin‘s rule.

“Today it became clear that a person who writes in their blog the words ‘party of crooks and thieves’ is a stupid, c*cksucking sheep :),” said the tweet, written by Konstantin Rykov, a media-savvy Duma deputy. It was a clear reference to Navalny, who coined the popular phrase “party of crooks and thieves”, disparaging Putin’s United Russia. A short clip of Navalny yelling the “cocksucking sheep” insult at a first protest against Putin’s rule on Monday had already gone viral.

Medvedev’s official Twitter account promptly retweeted Rykov’s note, sending the Russian blogosphere into a frenzy. It was quickly deleted – but caches of the act spread far and wide.

The Kremlin was forced to admit the retweet . “Tonight an incorrect retweet of an entry appeared on Dmitry Medvedev’s Twitter account,” the Kremlin press office said. “A check revealed that during a routine password change, an employee in charge of technical support for the account made an inadmissible interference in @MedvedevRussia’s feed. The guilty will be punished,” it warned.

Liberal Russians took it as a sign that whoever it was that retweeted the remarks intended to make Medvedev look foolish, showing that opposition also existed within the Kremlin.

“Dear Kremlin! You just admitted that our people also exist in the Kremlin. Thank you,” tweeted Andrew Ryvkin, a user in St Petersburg, with a link to the statement.

Russia’s leading opposition figures

Alexey Navalny

Photograph: Max Avdeev/Guardian

The charismatic 35-year-old lawyer is seen as the de facto leader of Russia‘s disparate opposition, the first one able to unite liberals, nationalists, young and old. He coined the term “party of crooks and thieves” to describe Vladimir Putin‘s United Russia party. His blog, launched as a vehicle to expose his anti-corruption work, is visited by tens of thousands of people daily. He was arrested at Monday’s protest and jailed for 15 days.

Ilya Yashin

Photograph: Reuters

Yashin, 28, is one of the youngest leaders opposed to Putin’s rule and a co-leader of Solidarity, an umbrella liberal opposition movement. He is a constant presence at Russia’s “Strategy 31” protests, where liberal activists meet on the 31st of each month to call for the right to protest. They are regularly broken up by police. Yashin was arrested on Monday and sentenced to 15 days in prison for disobeying police orders. He has been targeted several times by Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group.

Boris Nemtsov

Photograph: Sergei Chirikov/EPA

Nemtsov, 52, has been an outspoken critic of Putin for nearly a decade. The party he helped co-found, Parnas, was denied the right to register in parliamentary elections this year. He is seen as part of the older generation of liberal critics, and is somewhat tainted by his association with the late president Boris Yeltsin, under whom he served as deputy prime minister during some of the country’s most chaotic years. He is also well known for his playboy lifestyle.

Yevgeniya Chirikova

Photograph: Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

Chirikova built her name by leading the fight against a project to build a highway through the Khimki forest in northern Moscow. The eloquent 35-year-old has become the new face of grassroots activism in Russia.

Moscow police seal off central square as opposition to rally

Police are setting up metal barriers along the perimeter of Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow as opposition groups are preparing to stage a new unsanctioned rally to protest election fraud, a RIA Novosti correspondent reports.

On Tuesday evening the square saw a rally that drew up to 5,000 people, including both opposition and pro-Kremlin youth groups. More than 300 people were detained while five had to seek medical assistance as a result of a police crackdown.

Meanwhile, around 5,000 people are holding an authorized rally on Pushkin Square, less than a kilometer away, in support of the governing United Russia party, a spokesman for the city Main Internal Affairs Administration said.

Reinforced police patrols are on standby to ensure security.

Police have detained about 900 people over two nights of protests against alleged fraud in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won a much reduced majority.


On Tuesday, a Moscow court sentenced anti-regime blogger Alexei Navalny to 15 days in jail for disobeying police orders during Monday’s protest. Ilya Yashin, leader of the opposition Solidarity movement, was also jailed for 15 days.