News / Europe

    Russians Look Ahead to Mass Protest, Presidential Election

    An elderly demonstrator holds a poster showing an edited photo of an aging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and signed '2050. No'.
    An elderly demonstrator holds a poster showing an edited photo of an aging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and signed '2050. No'.
    James Brooke

    Is Russia’s middle class on the march? People are angry, and are speaking out for clean elections and democracy.

    Two days after Russia’s largest democracy demonstration in a generation, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded with a few lines in Facebook.

    He wrote, "I agree neither with the slogans, nor the statements voiced at the protests."

    Within minutes, readers demanded, which slogans? Did he object to the central one, "Clean elections?”

    Within 24 hours, more than 12,000 Russians put their names on the line with such comments as, “Shame” and “Pathetic.”

    Suddenly, middle class Russians are saying they are fed up, in public.

    Mikhail Morozov, a sales manager, is one of them. He said last week’s voting was a waste of time because the Kremlin had decided the results in advance.

    Last weekend, protests were held in 95 cities across Russia.

    Evgeniya Chesnikova, a 30-year-old chess teacher, came to Moscow’s protest with flowers, symbolizing her hope the protest movement will remain peaceful. “I came here today because this autocratic regime of Putin, it can't stay anymore. It's all of criminals and corruption," he said.

    Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to extend his rule of Russia for six more years by winning the presidential election in March.

    On Monday, a planned Constitution Day rally next to the Kremlin walls was turned into a pro-Putin pep rally for several thousand supporters.

    A few blocks away, Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s third richest man and owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team in the U.S., held a press conference.

    The billionaire bachelor announced he is running for president.

    Masha Lipman, an analyst at Carnegie Center Moscow, says Mr. Putin could be in trouble. His popularity has been dropping since he announced a job switch with President Dmitry Medvedev three months ago. “The trend is negative for Putin. People are angry and in the same time are invigorated by the success of their collective action. Putin's rating is on decline, has been on decline for quite some time now," he said.

    Lipman says Mr. Putin is gambling on riding out the protest storm until Christmas and New Year’s, when Russians take a two-week winter break. “Maybe the calculation of the government is let them let off steam. Soon, we are going to have a long holiday in Russia," he said.

    But with new presidential candidates positioning themselves, Russia’s powerful church chiding the Kremlin to hold clean elections, and Internet activists working to organize a new wave of protests for December 24, Russia’s political future is now clouded by a large question mark.

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