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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora