News / Europe

Massive Russian Protest Poses Growing Challenge to Putin

Demonstrators hold Russian opposition flags during a rally protesting against election fraud in Moscow, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011.
Demonstrators hold Russian opposition flags during a rally protesting against election fraud in Moscow, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011.

Multimedia

Audio
James Brooke

When Russia’s protest movement started three weeks ago, many in the Kremlin calculated that winter would kill it off. Saturday's rally to protest alleged fraud in the December 4 parliamentary elections, however, was bigger than the first large protest on December 10.

The protesters shouted “New Elections, New Elections,” and organizers say their densely packed mass on Sakharov Avenue reached 100,000 people, which would exceed the numbers who showed up to protest at a similar rally in Moscow two weeks ago.
Russian police estimated this Saturday's turnout at only 30,000.

The crowd Saturday wanted free elections and protested the allegedly tainted victory on December 4 of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.  

A multicolored sea of flags - of liberals and communists, monarchists and anarchists - all waved at one rally for one goal: fair elections in Russia.

Demanding change now

Alexei Navalny, an internet blogger and rising star of the opposition, bellowed through towers of loudspeakers that enough people were gathered to storm Prime Minister Putin’s offices.

He said that Russia’s opposition is peaceful - for now. But he vowed that “next year the leaders will change.”

The United Russia party denies the charges of election fraud raised by Navalny and others.

Saturday’s mass rally indicated, though, how sharply the mood seems to have turned against Putin.

Focus on Putin

In a gathering peppered with homemade signs, one man carried a photograph of Putin wearing a white winter shawl shaped like a condom.

Many protesters were insulted last week when Russia’s Prime Minister joked that he confused their white ribbons of peace with condoms.

Bundled in wool scarves and parkas, the crowd rocked as one rapper ridiculed Putin and corruption in Russia.

Putin has further insulted the protest movement by using old Cold War charges to say that people were demonstrating for money and that they only hit the streets after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the signal.

Grigory Nikolaevich Zaichenko, a 61-year-old retiree, walked the edges of the crowd holding up a sign that asked, “Where is the money Hillary is handing out?”

He said the combination of blatant fraud and the new ability to communicate through the internet meant that people’s patience has run out.

Kremlin's maneuverings

The Kremlin apparently hoped to cut the protest turnout by issuing a statement Saturday morning saying that the government is hurrying through new laws that will liberalize the registration of parties and presidential candidates.

But hours before the rally, the presidential human rights panel that advises the Kremlin called for the resignation of Russia’s election chief and for new parliamentary elections.

In another reflection of the opposition’s growing strength, Alexei Kudrin, a former finance minister, spoke at the rally. He called for dismissal of the election commissioner and new parliamentary elections.

Looking out at the crowd that stretched for nearly one kilometer, Kudrin said that only dialogue between the opposition and the Kremlin would avoid revolution.

But Leonid Parfyonov, a TV journalist, warned attendees that Russia’s drive for democracy is now or never.

He said if Putin wins a six-year term in the March 4 presidential election, his time in office could equal that of the long-serving Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Laying out a plan

Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Prime Minister, offered the opposition’s road map for Russia’s political future: Postpone presidential elections to the end of April; hold new, fair and open parliamentary elections next December.

Andrei, a 28-year-old company worker, said he came to the rally to demand the cancellation of the recent parliamentary elections.

“We think that parliamentary election results were a fake actually, so we want the results canceled,” he said.

Reflecting the nationwide nature of the protest movement, demonstrations were also held Saturday in St. Petersburg and dozens of other Russian cities.

By far the biggest was in Moscow, on Sakharov Avenue, a broad boulevard named after the Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov.

Ilya, a 31-year-old arts worker, came to the rally with a black-and-white photo of Sakharov pinned to his parka. He said that many of Sakharov’s democracy slogans from the Soviet perestroika period are relevant to Russia today.

In a reminder that Russia, the world’s biggest country, can make large and sudden political changes, this Sunday, Christmas Day, marks 20 years since former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev appeared on national television and dissolved the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid