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Following Russia’s presidential elections of March 4, convincingly won by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the protest movement that emerged in Russian big cities after the December parliamentary polls seems to be unable to boast further progress. Experts say it is subsiding because Russians do not like the idea of a “color revolution,” while the opposition has failed to consolidate protest electorate on a basis of a clear-cut political program.
Another rally under the slogan For Fair Elections will be held on March 10, as agreed by the opposition and Moscow’s city authorities. Although they have failed to agree the venue. The city authorities are refusing to authorize a rally in downtown Moscow, fearing that it might follow the March 5 scenario, when a rally in Pushkinskaya Square grew into clashes with police. As a result, more than 260 protesters were detained in Moscow, and 280 – in St. Petersburg.
The For Fair Elections rally in the Pushkinskaya Square failed to draw as many protesters as its organizers forecast. Some analysts even say it was a complete failure. The opinion is shared by both political scientists and by Russian bloggers who supported previous such actions.
According to police statistics, the rally drew not more than 14,500 protesters, or much less than previous opposition actions. The square was quite enough to accommodate all those who came, it was not even necessary to block the Tverskaya Street.
The rally could barely be called a long one either: people began to leave in an hour or so. Moreover, according to witnesses, people seemed to be rather loyal to the election outcome. Thus, a video available at social networks features co-chairman of the Party of People’s Freedom (PARNAS) Vladimir Ryzhkov several times asking participants in the rally whether they recognized the lections’ legitimacy and each time getting “Yes” in reply.
“The action appeared to be nor as mass-scaled as forecast by its organizers, and they admitted this fact themselves. It looks like Vladimir Putin and his team have managed to recapture the agenda and this or that way to persuade a larger part of protesters that such actions are pointless,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper cites Grigory Dobromelov, a deputy director general of the Institute of Political Studies.
More to it, the rally began quite peacefully but soon grew into confrontation. Opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Ilya Ponomarev, who called for an indefinite protest action, got into the snow-covered fountain after the rally. Later, Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin joined them. Meanwhile, a group of activists began an unauthorized march along the Tverskaya Street. A bit earlier, another opposition leader Eduard Limonov and about a hundred of his supporters set off for the Lubyanskaya Square to stage an unsanctioned action there. As a result, about 200 activists, including the leaders, were detained.
Meanwhile, social networks users found it justified and lawful that police had detained protesters. “Yesterday’s senseless fight in the Pushkinskaya Square resulted from mistakes made by the opposition and points that the protest movement is nearing a crisis,” the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily cites a blogger nicknamed kon-budenogo.
According to chairman of the Yabloko opposition party Sergei Miktorkhin, “yesterday’s venture undertaken by Udaltsov and Co. was only playing into the hands of the authorities.” “Each further provocation like that will only reduce the number of protesters,” he said.
Observers also noted that radical activists of all stripes dominated the rally in the Pushkinskaya Square. The rally in no way looked like the previous protest actions in the Bolotnaya Square and the Sakharov Avenue but rather resembled now-obliterate fringe actions of the Strategy-31 movement, the newspaper cites the head of the Centre for Elite Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, Olga Kryshtanovskaya. “Previous actions were fair and inspiring, while the action in the Pushkinskaya Square was dark and dismal. It was led by people who will not hesitate to commit provocative acts. It drew radicals and well-trained saboteurs.”
According to Grigory Dobromelov, opposition leaders are fully aware that their electoral resource is up. “That is why they will be playing until the last gun is fired. They are playing an all-or-nothing game, being aware that they will have no other chance. But such personal motives have nothing to do with the interests of civil society, with fairness or unfairness of the elections. They would have resorted to provocative actions in any case,” he said.
The expert believes that the fact that the rally in the Pushkinskaya Square failed to draw more people “testifies to little efficiency of the opposition,” which was unable to get atop of the spontaneous protests, which once swept Moscow streets. “The fact that in the span of three months they failed to word any clear proposals to the authorities, but for vague statements urging Putin to step down, calling to dissolve the parliament or holding fair elections, proves that they are unable to consolidate opposition forces.”
The “replete minority,” in his words, for the first time displeased with the system was ready to stand for runoffs but was reluctant to be drawn into a color revolution. “As a matter of fact the opposition has nothing more to demand: the authorities have initiated simplification of registration procedures for parties, direct elections of governors, introduction of the majority election system, and so on. These initiatives counterbalance a major set of demands. The rest are merely vague slogans,” he said.
In the mean time, slogans of the For Far Elections organizational committee remain the same. Leader of the Left Front Sergei Udaltsov said they will need to invent nothing new. “Rallies will go on. We have long worded our slogans: a political reform and early elections. We don’t recognize the legitimacy of either the State Duma [lower parliament house] or the president. We want new authorities. As the protest is large-scale, so these demands will be implementable. We stand for escalation of the peaceful protest,” he said.
Vladislav Inozemtsev, the director of the Centre for the Study of Post-industrial Society, the protest movement seems to be subsiding. “In their statements, Navalny and other oppositionists are now voicing the demands they once pronounced. Nothing positive, nothing actual, no proposals, no new formats of struggle,” he told the RBC daily. The protest movement of recent times brought together too many different forces. “If an actual political life is to begin now, these forces will split,” he noted.
MOSCOW, March 7.