On February 4, the same day that Opposition forces marched in the centre of Moscow against Vladimir Putin and United Russia, citizens loyal to Mr. Putin put on their own display at Moscow’s Victory Park (Park Pobedy) on Poklonnaya Hill (Поклонной горе).
Thousands of Putin supporters (Moscow police claimed over 100,000) for a sizeable crowd on the same day that anti-Putin leaders were marching in Moscow. For an analysis on the importance of numbers of protesters across Russia, read the Adam Adomanis column in Forbes.
Give Putin’s handlers credit–they’ve learned from the opposition protests. In late December the Kremlin promised that pro-Putin marchers would turn out in force to counter the 24 December opposition rally. While the opposition enjoyed a crowd estimated by experts at between 80-100K, Putin’s team fell far short of the mark with a pathetic 2,000 a couple of days later.
Determined not to allow a repeat of previous lackluster turnouts, government workers were bused in for the pro-Putin rally on Poklonnaya Hill. Free vodka, cash and extra days off were some of the “incentives” marchers told journalists who asked why they’d traveled to Moscow from other cities.
A kitchen providing hot food and drink (a similar permit was reportedly denied for the opposition) didn’t hurt either. Whereas opposition groups must pay for their own protest and campaign materials, the Russian taxpayer seems to be footing the bill for Putin’s counter rallies and materials.
As reported in the New Yorker, “Two days ago, the Russian franchise of Anonymous hacked the e-mail of youth minister Vasily Yakimenko. He is in charge of those Kremlin youth groups, and in charge of their fake protests. That protest with the pins and the scarves and the jackets and the drums? It cost the Russian federal budget—and the Russian taxpayer—nearly two hundred thousand dollars. Judging by the traffic the buses created near Poklonnaya Gora, Saturday’s protest probably cost even more.”
So why did the Putin supporters come out in the cold weather to show their loyalty and support for Mr. Putin?
The only thing missing from the pro-Putin rally was Putin himself. Apparently he didn’t need the free vodka.