The first major protest against President Vladimir Putin after a summer lull drew tens of thousands of people, determined to show that opposition sentiment remains strong despite Kremlin efforts to muzzle dissent.
The street protests broke out after a December parliamentary election won by Putin’s party through what observers said was widespread fraud, and they grew in strength ahead of Putin’s effectively unopposed election in March to a third presidential term.
Huge rallies of more than 100,000 people even in bitter winter cold gave many protesters hope for democratic change. These hopes have waned, but opposition supporters appear ready to dig in for a long fight.
“We have to defend the rights that we were deprived of, the right to have elections. We were deprived of honest elections and an honest government,” opposition activist Alexander Shcherbakov said. “I’ve come to show that and to demonstrate that the people are opposed. I’m opposed to the illegitimate government and illegitimate elections.”
Leftists, liberals and nationalists mixed with students, teachers, gay activists and others as they marched down Moscow’s tree-lined boulevards chanting “Russia without Putin!” and “We are the power here!” Many wore the white ribbons that have become the symbol of the protest movement.