Large turnout expected for first anti-Putin rally since vote


TENS OF thousands of demonstrators are due to gather on Moscow’s Novy Arbat, a long avenue of Soviet-era high-rise buildings in central Moscow, at 1pm local time (9am Irish time) today in the first rally to be held since Vladimir Putin’s election as president of Russia.

For the organisers, the extra-parliamentary opposition, this is a key test of their mettle in the struggle to maintain the impetus of the anti-Putin protests which began after the disputed parliamentary elections in December.

Permission has been granted for a rally of 50,000 people. A turnout lower than that figure will be used by pro-Putin forces to suggest that the protest movement has run out of steam.

Already there are indications of strong differences within the protest movement between its younger, more radical leaders and older, more moderate members.

These differences came into the open last Monday when the young lions of the movement, Alexei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov and Ilya Yashin, deliberately broke an agreement made with the Moscow city government in order to get arrested for publicity purposes.

They were all quickly released and it is understood that the authorities now feel that Mr Navalny in particular is more dangerous to them in prison than he is on the streets.

Incarceration gives him extra “street cred”, especially among his more virulently right-wing skinhead supporters.

A bizarre situation has now arisen in which Mr Navalny is doing his best to get arrested and the authorities are doing their best not to arrest him.

The same goes for the pro-communist Mr Udaltsov and the more centrist Mr Yashin. The one thing all three have in common is their youth. Mr Navalny and Mr Udaltsov are 35 and Mr Yashin 28.

Older members of the extra-parliamentary opposition have already begun to distance themselves from the young bloods.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a leader of the moderate pro-western Yabloko party, has warned that more confrontational tactics could lead to violence and bloodshed.

More recent rallies have seen the arrival on the scene of young men who are spoiling for a fight with the demonstrators. So far, the scuffles have been of a minor nature and have taken place after the majority of demonstrators have left for home.

Mr Udaltsov in a statement yesterday said he did not rule out a campaign of civil disobedience in the run-up to Mr Putin’s inauguration in May. This tactic is strongly opposed by Mr Yavlinsky.

“We want the country to have elections in which ordinary people can choose the government they want without irregularities and fraud and without candidates using the state’s administrative resource,” Mr Udaltsov said, and that this view would be backed by all the demonstrators.

“Additional tactics may have to be adopted to achieve this. Perhaps a strike will have to be organised. We may need to camp out in tents. We will consult with the people,” he added. It is here that the differences arise.

A quick consultation would show that many leaders and many demonstrators would disagree strongly with this plan.

Not only has Mr Yavlinsky shown his disagreement on this issue, so too has the writer Boris Akunin, who is an extremely popular figure in the protest movement.

Mr Akunin has also suggested it will be natural for the number of demonstrators to diminish in the future as more targeted operations are brought into practice.