A year on from Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin, thousands of Muscovites rallied in a central Moscow square to protest against his rule. “Putin is a thief!” was a popular chant at the rally. “We are fighting for Russia, for our country, our future,” said Gennady Gudkov a former MP who has been stripped of his mandate since joining the opposition movement.
Despite a turnout larger than some had expected, there is frustration among the Russian opposition that the major street protests of 2011 and last year have not led to a sustained challenge to Mr Putin’s rule. A combination of harsher legislation, arrests and political pressure have kept the opposition movement in check, despite a sense that Mr Putin has lost the support of much of the urban elite.
There were around 15,000 people in Bolotnaya Square on Monday, although police estimates put the figure at half that and the organisers claimed that up to 50,000 people attended. Bolotnaya is symbolic as the scene of the first massed protest against Mr Putin in December 2011, and also saw violent clashes the day before Mr Putin’s election a year ago. More than two dozen protesters are still facing trial over the disturbances, and have become known as the “May 6 prisoners”. Opposition leaders have insisted that the police provoked the clashed and have called those charged “political prisoners”.
Yesterday’s rally had been put in doubt earlier in the day when a worker was killed during the construction of a stage for the event. In the end, organisers decided to go ahead with the protest, but start it with a minute’s silence. The lack of a proper stage, however, meant that many of the speeches were inaudible and much of the crowd dissipated shortly after arriving. There was a heavy police presence to ensure there would be no disturbances.