Tens of thousands march against Putin in Moscow


One month ahead of presidential polls, tens of thousands of people marched through the centre of Moscow today to protest Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the Kremlin for a third presidential term.
The stop-Putin movement staged its third major rally since disputed 4 December parliamentary polls. Protesters rallied together and accepted a set of demands read aloud by organisers during the rally. Opposition leaders demanded new parliamentary elections, the release of political prisoners, the dismissal of the head of the Central Election Committee, as well as the registration of Grigory Yavlinsky as a presidential candidate. Yavlinksy, the founder of the Yabloko opposition party, was recently refused registration in the race by the Central Election Committee.

Despite the freezing temperatures turnout was higher than expected. Organisers estimated 120,000 attended, but police put that number at 36,000. The march and rally from Kaluzhskaya to Bolotnaya Square today was the largest protest to date, organisers vowed to hold another demonstration on 26 February if the Kremlin fails to meet their demands.


Today’s protest brought together the diverse elements of the ant-government movement, four big columns were formed by protesters representing the leftists, liberals, nationalists and civil activists. Smaller columns were formed to represent smaller groups, including religious and sexual minority groups. Protesters seeking peaceful change held white balloons to signify unity. Bright and creative posters were held up during the protest, with messages like “Russia without Putin,” “Putin you’re fired,” “Put in out” and “We’re ruled by vegetables.”
Putin’s supporters have dismissed the historically large rallies, claiming that participants are “financed by the West to destabilise the situation in Russia.” Vladimir Markin, member of Putin’s United People’s Front and spokesperson for the Russian Investigative Committee dismissed video evidence of fraud during the 4 December election, claiming that it was falsified, financed, and spread by the United States.

Anti-Putin rallies spread outside of the capital city, with similar rallies held across Russia and even in cities in 17 other countries, including London, Madrid, Sydney, and New York. Smaller anti-Putin rallies were held by individuals who felt that they could not march under the same banner as communists and nationalists.


A parallel rally in support of Putin was held at Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow, it attempted to link the loose stop-Putin coalition to the anti-government Orange Revolution that took place in Ukraine seven years ago, attendees were warned of an “orange threat from USA.” There have been allegations that participation in the rally was not voluntary, claims that many participants were employees of government-funded institutions, such as post offices and city councils, and that they were told that they would lose their jobs if they did not take part. Police estimated 138,000 participants, eyewitnesses put the figure much lower.
Putin speaking at a press conference in the Ural Mountains region said that the number of Muscovites who turned out in support was a  reflection of his popularity not just the product of “administrative resources“. Although he did acknowledge that such resources may have been used to mobilise his supporters.

Meanwhile bloggers, rights activists, opposition members and journalists are gearing up to monitor the upcoming presidential elections as fears of vote-rigging rise.


Opposition member pulled from Russian presidential race

The Russian Central Election Committee has refused to register Grigory Yavlinsky — founder of the Yabloko opposition party — as a presidential candidate. Yabloko did not reach the seven per cent minimum in the State Duma elections, but according to electoral law, the party should still have been able to register Yavlinksy as a presidential candidate with two million signatures in support. The committee rejected 25 per cent of the signatures he collected, deeming them to be defective.

Yavlinsky said that according to the committee’s documentation, less than three per cent of signatures were fraudulent, while the other 23 per cent contained “other infringements of paper execution.” The law says the number of defective signatures must not exceed five per cent.

The party denies the allegations, and continue to insist that the majority of signatures were authentic. Many well-respected artists and public figures signed in support of Yavlinsky, including former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev.

“The committee’s decision is politically motivated,” Yavlinsky told journalists, expressing concern that authorities are compromising voters’ right to choose a candidate. “Clearly this is not a decision celebrating the rule of law and allowing citizens to influence the election process,” he concluded.

A number of Russian opposition politicians said that refusal to register Yavlinsky could delegitimise the upcoming elections. The organisers of the 4 February “rally for fair elections” condemned the Committee’s decision.

Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency it is “absurd to protest against the Central Election Committee’s decision.”

Yabloko’s watchdogs are preparing to monitor the presidential elections on 4 March. In December’s Duma elections they reported mass fraud and election law violations, but only a few succeeded in fighting those violations in court. Most judges simply denied allegations and refused to bring law violators to justice. Yabloko activists claim that Russian courts are not independent, leaving the violations unprosecuted.

Russia’s leading independent election monitors’ association, GOLOS, also questions the independence of Russian courts. Deputy director Grigory Melkonyants told Index that election results cannot be disputed in court, as judges refuse to take evidence of violations into consideration.

In the run up to the parliamentary elections, GOLOS was targeted by pro-government media for launching an interactive online map of election violations. The propaganda war against GOLOS is now restarting as they gear up for the presidential elections. After launching a new map of violations, the organisation received a document demanding that they vacate their Moscow offices on 16 January. Police visited a joint event held by GOLOS and Memorial for the first time, and activists from both organisations viewed their presence as an act of “psychological pressure.” A few days before the incident, the head of the Federal Security Service department, in the Komi republic of Russia labeled the organisations as “extremists” aiming to “wreck the upcoming elections.”

With millions angered by Yavlinsky’s removal from the race, and the inability of activists to bring election law violators to justice through biased courts, many believe that the mass protests on 4 February will garner more participants than the last two demonstrations against fraudulent parliamentary elections.



Putin censors campaign website as opposition critics debate future

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has launched a website dedicated to his run in the forthcoming presidential elections on 4 March. Minutes after the site went live on 12 January, comments in the site’s “suggestions” section called on him not to run in the presidential campaign. 98 per cent of visitors voted in favour of the comments, but the suggestions soon disappeared from the website. Bloggers quickly published screenshots, expressing concerns over censorship and noted that the website’s moderators left only comments wishing Putin success, and best wishes.

Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied the censorship allegation. “The website froze for a few hours due to the huge amount of visitors,” he told RIA Novosti news agency. Eventually, after numerous blog posts and news items, the comments calling for Putin not to run were restored.

Putin did not comment on the issue and is unlikely to do so in the near future, as he has announced he won’t be taking part in pre-election debates.

Meanwhile his potential opponents in the presidential campaign are facing hard times.

The leader of The Other Russia opposition movement Eduard Limonov has filed a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights claiming Russia’s Central Election Committee has  refused to register him as a candidate. He says the police stopped his supporters from entering the building where its meeting was to be held. Under Russian electoral law, a person who wants to run in a presidential campaign has to hold meeting with at least 500 people who sign a paper in support of the candidate, which is then passed to the Central Election Committee. Liminov’s group of initiators eventually had to hold a meeting in a bus, and the Committee refused to recognise its results.

The leaders of two political parties that did not enter the State Duma as they din’t get over the threshold of seven per cent required by the law — economist Grigory Yavlinsky of “Yabloko” and oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov of “Pravoe Delo” — had to collect the two million signatures the law demands of them to be registered. Prokhorov claims  his team has accomplished the task, though a number of experts remain skeptical about the accuracy of their work. Yavlinsky is still collecting the signatures, his team has complained about the artificial obstacles Russian electoral election law creates. For example, the number of signatories from each Russian region is limited to 50,000 people. In Moscow and St Petersburg it is relatively easy to find supporters, but regional work is harder.

Candidates are given 25 days  to accurately collect two million signatures. They will have to hand them in to the Central Election Committee on 18 January.

Meanwhile, Sergei Mironov of A Just Russia and Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party  have been asked to  become “transitional presidents” by many participants of the December rallies. The Left Front opposition movement sent a proposal to them saying should they win the elections they should carry out a comprehensive election law reform, hold new parliamentary elections in just one year and then step down. Mironov has accepted the proposal, while Zyuganov said he was ready to implement the election reform and re-run the parliamentary elections but did not like the idea of stepping down.

A similar proposal was made to all candidates by notable Russian political scientist Andrey Piontkovsky. In an article he suggested that  candidates who oppose Putin should “sign a contract with voters” promising to become a transitional president. This would involve carrying out radical reforms of election legislation, police and judiciary system; limiting the president’s power through passing amendments to the constitution; holding new parliamentary elections; and then within one to one-and-a-half years stepping down to participate in early presidential elections, which would be held according to new democratic laws. The candidates are yet to respond to him.

“The core goal for opposition is not to let Putin run the country again”, says Piontkovsky, who views transitional presidency as the way to achieve that. The “contract” between presidential candidates and civil society is to be “signed” on 4 February, on a third protest action for fair elections, which is expected to be the biggest yet.