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Last December Russian authorities were caught off-guard by civil activists’ mass demonstrations demanding fair elections. But last Saturday they responded to the protest activity of the middle class with a rally organized by the loyalists in support of the presidential candidate Vladimir Putin. It looks like the authorities will follow the same election tactic throughout the election campaign. Such counter-measures, as well as Putin’s regular policy articles in the media began to yield results. The ratings of the presidential candidate number one began to rise. This is largely so because the Opposition is fragmented, and its demands are inarticulate, as well as because Russians do not want revolutions.
Putin’s opponents and supporters on February 4 tried their strength in a tug-of-war in the run-up to the presidential election, due to take place on March 4. On Saturday, the authorities for the first time made a response to the oppositional rallies of the past few months. Alongside the street march For Fair Elections Moscow saw an “anti-orange” rally organized by Vladimir Putin’s supporters. Both demonstrations were very large ones and comparable in terms of turnout. Those who marched along Yakimanka Street to gather on Bolotnaya square, issued a fresh call for fair elections. They also demanded the release of political prisoners and issued a call for not voting for Vladimir Putin. Those who gathered at the Poklonnaya Gora memorial, opposed “orange revolutions”, urged an end to them and called to back Vladimir Putin.
The official statistics available from the Moscow police force looks as follows – the Bolotnaya Square rally gathered 36,000 participants, and the one in front of the Poklonnaya Gora memorial, 138,000 – four times as many. Bolotnaya Square rally organizers claim that in reality there were 120,000 demonstrators. One of those who mentioned the figure was Vladimir Ryzhkov. As for the strength of the Poklonnaya Gora rally, there have been doubts about it against the backdrop of complaints among the public sector employees who have been either forced to attend with the threat of dismissals, or on the contrary, lured into the square with lavish promises. “The police grossly understate the number of our supporters, and heavily exaggerate the number of pro-Putin demonstrators,” Bolotnaya Square rally organizers claim.
Analysts say that the styles of Saturday’s rallies differed greatly. “Whereas speakers at the Poklonnaya Gora rally went hysterical, trying to persuade the audience that an ‘orange threat’ was real, those on Bolotnaya Square were merry and looked happy to see the people came there despite the frost,” said Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “In fairness, one has to admit that they had nothing to offer to the crowd. As before, a great deal was said about dignity and honor of the Russian people. About the need for defending one’s convictions. But this time for some reason the emphasis was on the release of political prisoners.”
The vagueness of demands by members of the non-systemic opposition against the backdrop of Putin’s clear, pinpoint election pledges makes the prime minister’s campaign far more impressive, said the daily.
Speeches at the rallies and the comments on the world web that followed were clear evidence Russian society is split in two.“Bolotnaya Square demonstrators dubbed those demonstrating on Poklonnaya Gora as ‘slaves and muttonheads’ and ‘a gang of imbeciles’. The rhetoric heard from the Poklonnaya Gora rostrum was no better, “Bolotnaya square people are either idiots or traitors. To be more precise, they are idiots being led by traitors,” said TV commentator Mikhail Leontiev.
Political scientist Nikolai Zlobin is quoted by the RBC daily as saying, “I have not expected such a level of mutual hatred that surfaced at the Poklonnaya Gora and Bolotnaya Square rallies.”
However, the authorities voiced their satisfaction. The chief of the presidential staff, Sergei Ivanov said the rallies were the evidence of the pluralism of opinion. This is precisely the Kremlin’s reply to the December demonstrations: the 2012 campaign will be held in the context of soaring political activity in society, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Each time protest actions against the authorities will be placed in the middle of demonstrations of different nature.In the meantime, according to the VTSIOM pollster, Putin is in the lead in the ratings of presidential candidates. The level of support for him was up from 49 percent to 52 percent over just one week. According to the poll, in Moscow alone Putin may count on 43 percent of the votes. The RBC Daily speculates that Friday’s VTSIOM rating merely confirmed the correctness of the election strategy selected for the presidential campaign. His election team keeps organizing Putin’s meeting with different social groups to “get ideas to each individual.” The newspapers will publish several more articles – messages from the prime minister to the electorate.Putin’s press-secretary, Dmitry Peskov, is certain that Putin will emerge the winner in the first round. He told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda “the convincing support” shown at the Poklonnaya Hill rally and ”dry statistics available from sociologists firmly point to his victory in the first round.”In the meantime, Putin on Monday published another (fourth in a row) policy article – this time, in the daily Kommersant. It is devoted to democracy and statehood. In the article, entitled Democracy and the Quality of State the prime minister suggested using more widely the mechanism of direct elections and referendums on the municipal and regional levels. He said that the quality of state in Russia had lagged behind the readiness of civil society to participate in it, and he suggested updating the mechanisms of democracy in the country.Putin said that the society’s changing requirements to the authorities and the emergence of the middle class “from the narrow world of building one’s own individual well-being” was a result of his own and Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency.The mechanisms of the political system should be tuned up to enable it to timely identify and reflect the interests of large social groups and ensure the public coordination of these interests, Putin said. At the same time Russia needs “not a cheap circus show, and not a competition of vain promises, not a situation where democracy is confined to a door sign and where a political show and castings of candidates are presented as “government by the people”, and where the real meaning is emasculated by embarrassing statements and mutual accusations.”
Moscow, February 6.