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Protest activities by the Russian opposition after the December 4 parliamentary elections are gaining momentum. Whereas on Monday a rally in central Moscow gathered about four thousand people protesting against what they claimed was election rigging, on Saturday tens of thousands from various parties and organizations may take to the streets in the capital and other cities. A special role in the organization of this movement is played by the Internet. The harsh methods that the police used against the protesters on Monday and Tuesday poured more fuel onto the fire of discontent. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has confirmed that the opposition is free to speak its mind "using the constitutional right to demonstrate," but urged everyone to stay within the framework of the law.
The authorities are preparing for a stormy weekend, when new large-scale protests against election violations are due and which will mark the first anniversary of clashes in Moscow’s Manezh Square after the murder of football fan Yegor Sviridov by a group of men of Caucasus descent. It has been announced that the introduction of Interior Ministry troop reinforcements to Moscow, associated with last Sunday’s elections, will be effective until the end of the week. According to news agencies, on Tuesday 51,500 law enforcers were involved in policing in the city.
Left Front, Solidarity and other non-systemic opposition forces earlier said they had agreed with the authorities on a rally by 300 in Revolution Square on Saturday, 10 December. There is little doubt the promised 300 will be there - in the specially created groups on Facebook and VKontakte approximately 60 thousand have had themselves registered, says the daily Vedomosti. Of these, about 35,000 vowed to go to the Moscow rally, said the radio station Ekho Moskvy. Another 8,000 said in Facebook that they "may come." The registration is continuing.
The Moscow Mayor’s Office is ready to declare the initially agreed protest action in Revolution Square illegal, if more than 300 show up. In this case, people will be detained and the organizers are threatened with fines and imprisonment for up to 15 days.
Meanwhile, over the two previous days of protests the police set a record: they detained nearly one thousand. All are charged with disobeying police and jailed for a maximum of 15 days. All in all, since the date of the elections the number of detainees, according to media reports, has approached 1,200. Among the detainees there were several journalists who were at the rallies on assignment from their editorial boards.
The Russian Union of Journalists has demanded a probe into all cases in which journalists, who were detained and beaten up in the process of performing their professional duties. The Russian Union of Journalists described police actions as "an attempt to muzzle society, to intimidate it, and to show muscle and the ability to violate the law with impunity."
On Tuesday, a number of cultural figures were detained at a rally. In particular, famous pianist Fyodor Amirov and composer Alexander Manotskov. In addition, the news has arrived of the arrest of young filmmaker Dmitry Vorobyovsky. Among the detained journalists was a well-known woman gossip columnist.
"They greatly overdid it with the police crackdown. Now some glamorous personalities are blacklisted as members of the opposition," the daily Vedomosti quotes a source close to the mayor's office as saying, “but discontent keeps growing."
Support for the protest action due Saturday has been expressed by the Russian federation of car owners. "On December 10 we are going to stage a motor procession in the center of Moscow and a rally in Revolution Square against election violations. We intend to support the action with our participation," said the association’s leader Sergei Kanayev.
Parties’ attitudes to the scheduled rally are varied. The leader of the Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, voiced the readiness to join the protest actions. Representatives of the parliamentary opposition have so far formally refused to participate in the rally, though the Communists and members of Fair Russia have nothing against their members going there on their own.
State Duma deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party, Maxim Rokhmistrov, told the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets that the party was now planning its own demonstrations. As for a general meeting with other political forces, there is no decision on this issue yet. "We do not want small parties to score points at our expense. But if there is going to be a truly serious political action, then we will see, and possibly, we will support the things they will be saying."
A State Duma member from the Communist Party, Valery Rashkin, said that the CPRF had submitted a request to the Moscow Mayor's Office for permission to hold a street procession and rally on December 18. But at the same Rashkin said he did not exclude the participation of fellow party members in other demonstrations. "Our activists who may decide to go to the rally will do so in their personal capacity," said a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, Sergei Obukhov.
The Communist Party has taken a dual position: on the one hand, it is not joining the protesters, but on the other, nobody prohibits the Communists, who may want to go Revolution Square on Saturday from doing so. Until just recently, there had been an unofficial ban within the Communist Party on any kind of joint action with non-systemic opposition.
"The leaders of the Communist Party are in a difficult situation,” says the newspaper. “They cannot absolutely ignore the "protest electorate" who cast ballots for them. But they cannot afford the luxury of a conflict with the Kremlin. And it will certainly happen, if the party spearheads public protest."
Fair Russia’s attitude to the forthcoming Saturday rally is exactly the same. Officially, the party will not go to Revolution Square. Its interested activists are free to do so.
What makes the situation still more complicated is this weekend will mark the first anniversary of a protest demonstration by football fans and nationalist youth in Manezh Square. "We will not permit a repetition of last year's December events in Manezh square,” the RBC Daily quotes a source in the Moscow police as saying. “Now operatives are actively monitoring blogs and social networks to identify any arrangements for meetings by nationalists timed for the anniversary of this event."
Protests in the capital have alarmed the Kremlin, the government and the Mayor's Office, which are now in the process of working on likely responses, Vedomosti quotes sources in these structures. On Wednesday, there was a meeting of the Security Council with participation of the president, prime minister, heads of the Interior Ministry, the FSB security service and others.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday acknowledged the need to conduct a dialogue with those oppositionally minded, and to give them an opportunity to use the constitutional right to demonstrate.
"With regard to street democracy activities, my attitude is as follows: if people act within the law, they should be entitled to express their opinion,” he said at a meeting of the federal coordinating council of the All-Russia Popular Front. “And we should not restrict these rights."
But he added that "if someone is violating the law, then the law enforcement authorities shall demand compliance with the law by all legitimate means."
Putin said that, based on the majority of citizens, a dialogue with the opposition must be conducted. "We need to engage in a dialogue with those who are oppositionally-minded to give them a chance to have it out, using the constitutional right to demonstrate," concluded the prime minister.
At the same time Putin offered a sharply negative reaction to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement on the elections in Russia. According to him, Clinton set the tone of the Russian opposition by criticizing the outcome of the elections to the State Duma.
"I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners. The first thing the Secretary of State (Hillary Clinton) did was to offer an assessment of the elections. She said they were dishonest and unfair, although she had not yet received the conclusions of the ODIHR observers," Putin said.
He said the US Secretary of State "set the tone for some leaders" in Russia, "gave a signal." "They have heard that signal and with the support from the U.S. Department of State they began active work,” Putin concluded.
He emphasized the need for tightening the responsibility of those who perform such tasks.
"We must protect our sovereignty, and we should give thought to increasing the responsibility of those who act on assignments from foreign states to influence political processes," Putin said.
Meanwhile, the recent political developments in Russia have affected the behavior of investors. The Russian stock market on December 6 slumped 4-4.7 percent on the latest political news. According to Kommersant, for the first time since the 1990s political developments have led to cancellation of a Eurobond placement by a major Russian issuer. Against the backdrop of ongoing mass protests in Moscow, Vnesheconombank has had to postpone the placement of Eurobonds. According to the newspaper, investors, who earlier confirmed interest in the forthcoming issue, have begun to withdraw their requests. In a situation where against the backdrop of political risk investors lack confidence in the stability of a state-owned company other Russian issuers should suspend their borrowing plans until the situation stabilizes, experts say.
MOSCOW, December 8