Next Moscow protest on 24 December; Kremlin moves to limit Facebook and Vkontakte

Restrained police. Approval for public protests. Such things are unusual for Russia where citizens are more accustomed to mass arrests and bans on public demonstrations.

One must question whether such changes are part of the future or just a method to buy time until the protests lose steam. As the opposition says the next large Moscow protest will be on 24 December, it is unclear what will be done to maintain interest high until that time. What must the opposition do in the interim to keep morale high?

This news is complicated that while in public the police are taking a low key approach and applications for public meetings are being approved, behind the scenes the social media that organized Saturday’s protests may be coming under pressure. A top official of the Russian Facebook site Vkontakte said this week the company has been pressured by the Federal Security Service to block opposition supporters from posting and this Friday company officials were summoned to the Federal Security Bureau (formerly the KGB) for questioning.

Rare instances of violence included firebombs that were thrown into a crowd of  pro-Kremlin demonstrations. The rally was outside the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. Police have not identified who threw the firebombs.

The level and intensity of the protests have surprised officials and forced the government to take the opposition more seriously. Alexei Malachenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center blogged that Vladimir Putin “has stopped being viewed the national leader, in the view of his political team, the ruling political class and society.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) with Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus (R).

Speaking from Prague where he is meeting with Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has promised that allegations of election fraud will be investigated by professional prosecutors. Russia Today television quoted President Medvedev as saying that the protests were “a manifestation of democracy,” and while protesters should obey police, “at the same time, I believe that people should have an opportunity to express their opinion. If they want to have their say on elections – it is fine.