Despite heavy rain which many participants joked had been ordered up by Vladimir Putin, tens of thousands of anti-Putin protesters marched in Moscow on Tuesday, calling for the resignation of President Vladimir Putin and demanding new elections.
Protesters waved flags and shouted “Russia without Putin” even in the absence of leaders who had been summoned to appear before investigators who had raided the homes of prominent opposition leaders the night before.
Protesters came by the thousands, 22 thousand according to Moscow police, in the first major rally since 6 May the day prior to the inauguration. Protesters braved a heavy police presence and a new law against protest violations that stiffens fines for offenses.
While angry, protesters insist that they have no desire for an “Arab Spring” and instead want the government to sit down and talk. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told CNN that “We believe that his presidency right now is not legitimate at all. Elections were not free, they were not fair and the results were not credible.”
Today’s demonstration finished without violence and by Noon the government had pulled back many of the riot troops that had visibly patrolled the streets during protests in May. Police say that only two-dozen protesters had been arrested in today’s rally. Foreign leaders have warned Putin that his heavy-handed tactics accomplish little but show that the former KGB spy is deeply worried by the protests that have challenged his once iron-clad authority.
Valery Zagovny, a 50-year-old who served for the Soviet army in Afghanistan told reporters, “Those who fought are beyond being scared. Let those behind the red-toothed walls (of the Kremlin) be scared.”
The rally was conducted as planned and began on Strastnoy Boulevard at Noon. Protesters marched across the centre of Moscow to finish on Sakharova Avenue with a meeting and music concert. The demonstration concluded two hours earlier than planned because of heavy rain which drenched the activists.
Opposition leaders addressed the crowd, demanding that President Putin resign and new elections be conducted. They also demanded changes to the Russian Constitution to limit the total number of terms a president could serve.
“The authorities are in a panic,” opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov told Russia’s largest opposition newspaper, the Noviya Gazette. Udaltsov attended the rally, choosing to ignore a police summons to report for questioning. “The goal is for Russia to get legitimate power through real, free elections, and reforms of legislation. That is the goal that unites left and right wingers, communists and nationalists. Free elections are beneficial for everyone; this is the main thing for the electorate. Because it is either free elections or a dictatorship.”
Many protesters are middle-class city citizens and the age demographics of the opposition movement has grown to include many voters formerly thought to be pro-Putin.
In yesterday’s raid on the home of Kseniya Sobchak, police confiscated cash and her international passport, saying that a tax inquiry was being prepared. Putin was once a family friend and her father had been Putin’s mentor in the early day’s of Russia’s democracy.
Meanwhile the Russian government plans to draft new laws regulating the use of the Internet in Russia. Despite saying that the laws were mainly to target concerns such as pornography, some Duma delegates want to regulate on-line political dissent as well.