Pro-Putin rally for Thursday, 23 February

Vowing not to allow Russia’s opposition to thwart the election of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the post of president, pro-Putin demonstrators across the country say that stability is more important than personal freedoms. Many of these protesters lived through the time of economic troubles immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mr. Putin stepped in just prior to the end of Boris Yeltsin’s term and was then elected for two terms, serving as President of Russia from 2000-2008. Russia’s constitution forbids a candidate from serving more than two consecutive terms so Mr. Putin took on the job of Prime Minister while his close associate of many years, Dmitry Medvedev, stepped into the job as President.

Thousands of persons have gathered across Russia to counter the opposition rallies which sprang up after the contested Duma parliamentary elections in December. Authorities say that as many as 60,000 came out to support Mr. Putin in his home town of St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city and ofter termed as Russia’s “Northern Capital.” However independent sources and crowd photos show that police routinely exaggerate the size of pro-Putin crowds while underestimating the size of opposition protests.

Another pro-Putin rally in Moscow has been approved and organizers say if the projected 200,000 persons come the rally would be the biggest political demonstration in Russia’s past two decades. Alexei Anisimov of Mr. Putin’s campaign told reporters that the route would take marchers from Tverskaya Street to Manezh Square near the Kremlin walls, an area that has been denied in opposition permit applications.

Mr. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has consistently said that the Prime Minister was too busy with governing the country to take part in election debates with registered opposition candidates, however this week Peskov hinted that the prime minister might find the time to attend the Thursday rally.

Opposition forces argue that many of the pro-Putin public supporters are either paid or forced to appear. In recent weeks allegations have surfaced that some of the paid participants have not received the money promised for attending the Putin rallies. Sources say that the going rate is 500 rubles per person, $16.85 at the current exchange rate, for spending an afternoon standing in the cold and listening to speeches.

That amount may not be much money for some, but to a retired pensioner on a limited income, 500 rubles can help provide extra food or medicine. Many Russians have seen the YouTube and RUTube videos of state employees and workers from state owned factories bused in from the provinces for the Putin rallies and say that those workers are paid a full day’s wages for attending.