Demonstrators took to a central avenue in Moscow today to challenge Vladimir Putin’s election win as vote-fraud protests showed signs of cooling.
While City Hall gave permission for 50,000 to gather on Moscow’s Novy Arbat, about 10,000 people came, police spokesman Maksim Kolosvetov said by phone today. The number was more than double that at 25,000, opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov told demonstrators.
Parliamentary elections in December sparked the biggest street protests in Russia’s post-Soviet history as tens of thousands rallied amid mass reports of ballot-stuffing. Prime-minister Vladimir Putin secured his return to the presidency for a third term, winning almost 64 percent of the vote in March 4 elections that international observers criticized as unfair.
“The protest wave is going down,” said Ilya Venyavkin, 30, a historian who attended the gathering on Novy Arbat, a central avenue where traffic is blocked daily as high-ranked officials speed to the Kremlin in motorcades. “But the social network, that appeared during these months is here to stay.”
Today’s demonstration saw a fraction of the turnout on Feb. 4 when Putin’s opponents said they gathered at least 120,000 in subzero temperatures for a march to Bolotnaya Square, an island south of the Kremlin. City police put the number at 36,000. A pro-government rally held that day near a World War II memorial park mustered 138,000 people, Moscow police said.
Activist Sergei Udaltsov was detained today by police as he sought to lead dozens of demonstrators in a march after permitted hours, Interfax reported, citing police. About 60 people were held in St. Petersburg for gathering without approval from the city administration, Interfax said.
“The movement should search for new formats,” Leonid Parfyonov, a TV-presenter and co-founder of the Voters League, an independent elections watchdog, said by phone today.
The theme of vote fraud has been exhausted as a rallying call and demonstrations will fizzle by summer, Valery Fedorov, head of the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion said by phone in a Feb. 29 interview.
Putin’s victory gives the former KGB officer a six-year term in the job he ceded to protege Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 after eight years because of a limit on serving more than two consecutive terms.