News / Europe

Russia's Pro-Democracy Protests Cloud Putin's March Election Plan

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of All Russia People's Front, an umbrella movement of his supporters, in Moscow, December 27, 2011.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of All Russia People's Front, an umbrella movement of his supporters, in Moscow, December 27, 2011.
James BrookeJaphet Weeks

For Vladimir Putin, three months may feel like a political lifetime. The sudden rise of Russia’s democracy movement is posing the biggest challenge yet to his 12-year strongman rule.

It sounded like a TV game show.

In a tightly choreographed event, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that he would swap jobs with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ... after the formality of presidential elections March 4.

But three months and one controversial parliamentary election later, about 100,000 people came out in Moscow to chant: “Russia Without Putin.”

What snapped in Russia? Voices from the crowd give an answer.

Alexei Vladimirov drove 150 kilometers from Tver to join the December 24 protest. He said Russia has never had fair elections, but that 20 years after the end of communism, now is the time for real democracy here.

Svetlana Slepova came to the protest with white balloons. She said white symbolizes the democracy movement’s desire for peaceful reform.

Stanislav Gerasimov, a 24-year-old computer programmer, speaks for Russia’s new, politically active middle class. He said a critical mass of Russians have stopped fearing the government. They believe that government should serve the people - not the other way around.

Prime Minister Putin recently charged on national TV that some demonstrators are being paid to stage protests. Gerasimov and others see that as an insult.

He said Russian protesters are not paid - certainly not by [U.S.] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama. Gerasimov said people are taking part in protest actions voluntarily, to take part in what they see as a historic moment in Russia’s history.

History of revolutions

Russia went through two revolutions in the 20th century - the first to implant communism, the second to root it out.

For now, the opposition’s goal is to postpone presidential elections to late April. They want new faces and new parties competing in a free and fair vote. Alexei Navalny, the opposition’s rising star, said Tuesday he would be a candidate.

At the protest, Navalny threatened to take a crowd and storm the Kremlin if the pro-democracy demonstrators are rebuffed in the weeks ahead.

Gerasimov and his girlfriend want reform, not another revolution. Drawing on Russia’s turbulent 20th-century history, they say no one wants to execute the czar or fire tank shells at the prime minister’s office.

Internet, democracy and coming election

For the next 10 weeks, the key will be continued access to free Internet space. This protester said she and her friends organize entirely through the Internet.

She said Russia’s state-controlled TV channels all lie, and the only place to find the truth is on the Internet.

The next goal for the democracy movement is a protest rally in Moscow attended by one million people. That presumably could have an effect on the March 4 presidential election, which as recently as three months ago analysts were calling Putin’s coronation.

The Kremlin leader says he wants the election to be absolutely transparent, and insists he does not need to rig the vote in order to win what would be his third term as president. However, judging by the rapidly changing mood in Russia, he may now be fighting for his political life.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Millions of Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving, but they’re not necessarily thinking about turkey and stuffing

This forum has been closed.
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs