Like previous protest marches in Moscow this one was billed as a march of millions, and just like the others, tens of thousands came but police withheld official numbers from the media. The organizers must be pleased however as the crowd was large enough to make an impression on those in the Kremlin who had hoped that draconian laws aimed at punishing protesters apparently haven’t scared off enough of the opposition.
Organizers held a permit until 10pm and the rally ended just before the deadline as police began to direct participants toward nearby Metro stations. As late afternoon light began to fade in the last hours, opposition figure Aleksi Navalny took this photo of the plaza on his mobile telephone camera:
We feature this photo because official Russian media reports claim that the event was lightly attended. In fact, Voice of Russia Radio, a fine group of journalists in many respects but whose paychecks are signed by Vladimir Putin, described it throughout the day as the “march without the millions” totally ignoring both the number of Moscow’s crowd in the light of new laws designed to punish protesters. They also estimated the march in Saint Petersburg as having no more than 800 people, a grossly under-inflated number.
Three things struck us as significant about yesterday’s 15 September event in Moscow:
1- The overall peaceful reaction of the police to the protesters. While police in other cities went to their usual extremes, and we’ll document that in an upcoming report, the Moscow rally was tame in comparison to other rallies.
2- The addition of older Russians to the opposition movement was very obvious in every city, especially so in Moscow. The addition of an older element should have the Kremlin folk shaking in their boots. The bread and butter over 50-year-old voter that Vladimir Putin desperately needs to control if he is to remain in power seems to be growing weary of their leader if the numbers in Saturday’s crowds were an indicator.
The age of the average rally participant at times seemed skewed toward middle age and even above.
If the 15 September march holds any signs, Putin is in danger of losing his older voter base.
3- The “Pussy Riot” trial backfired on the administration and if the Kremlin is smart, they’ll heed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s call to drop the band’s recent prison sentence and set the band free based on time already served.
It has been obvious in recent weeks that the “Pussy Riot” affair has been adopted as a symbol of opposition to the government. On Saturday, everywhere one turned the band’s trademark balaclava masks were ever-present on banners, t-shirts, graffiti, and balloons.
You’ve probably seen previous march photos on this same route. City officials like this avenue named for the late Soviet dissident Andre Sarkharov as it narrows in several places and makes it easier for police to control the flow of the march.
As with previous marches, many of the most creative banners, t-shirts, signs, and balloons were those aimed directly at Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Mendeleyev Journal will cover some of those banners and signs in a future report.