Largest protest since collapse of Soviet Union rocks Russia

 

Moscow

Russia's leadership was forced to defend its legitimacy yesterday after about 100,000 demonstrators rallied in central Moscow to demand democratic reform and fair elections in the largest wave of popular dissent since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The rally on Moscow's Sakharov Avenue on Saturday was the fourth and by far the biggest of the mass demonstrations provoked by the parliamentary vote held on 4 December. The ruling United Russia party, led by the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, held on to a slim majority in parliament in those elections, but the results have been tainted by claims of wholesale fraud.

The demonstrators stood for hours in sub-zero weather on Saturday listening to a line-up of speakers as diverse as the crowd itself, including TV celebrities, writers, musicians, politicians, scientists and a jailed dissident whose video message was broadcast on a giant screen beside the stage.

"The people are waking up," said Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front opposition group who was arrested on the day of the elections as he heading to a rally. "The people have stopped putting up with this humiliating regime."

The name given to the demonstration – "For Fair Elections" – was also its main demand, suggesting a growing desire for the return of true democracy, not the "managed democracy" crafted under Mr Putin's 12-year rule.

The government has only three months before the 4 March presidential elections, when Mr Putin will seek to return for a third term as president. That mantle had been handed to Dmitry Medvedev, with Mr Putin taking the number two role, but few questioned where the real power lay.

With no viable competitors, Mr Putin is likely to win, but the legitimacy of his mandate could be eroded by the ongoing tide of discontent. His approval ratings have fallen to historic lows, with one survey this month by the independent Levada Centre showing that only 36 per cent of voters are behind Mr Putin.

In response to the crisis of legitimacy, the government has scrambled to offer reforms in the hope of placating the opposition. On Friday, the Kremlin introduced laws into parliament that would make it easier for new opposition parties to take part in elections.

A source in the United Russia party, who spoke to The Independent after the rally on Saturday, said the government planned to engineer opposition parties to fill in the political spectrum and soak up opposition votes.

"We have to take drastic action," he said. "We've missed our chance to learn how to work with the people and calm them down. We urgently have to open up the system."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

King's College, Cambridge: Stipendiary Junior Research Fellowships October 2016

£20,100 (pre-award of doctorate) rising each year to a maximum of £25,869: Kin...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Back End

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

Recruitment Genius: Online Lettings Negotiator

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'