Vladimir Putin's spokesperson yesterday defended police action against protestors decrying the Russian politician's presidential election victory, as final results showed that in some parts of Chechnya, Mr Putin had polled an improbable 99.89 percent of the vote.
Dmitry Peskov, the Prime Minister's spokesman, said that the police had shown "a high level of professionalism, legitimacy and effectiveness" in their handling of the event at Pushkin Square on Monday night. After the majority of the 20,000 crowd had dispersed, several hundred people remained on the square and were dragged away by riot police and detained. The police response and Mr Peskov's remarks appear to be meant as a clear signal to the opposition that they will only be allowed to protest in "authorised" places and times.
All of the 250 arrested, including leaders Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, were released within a few hours, and leaders of the informal opposition coalition to Mr Putin are now trying to formulate a strategy to ensure the protest voice does not fade as Russia's longest-standing post-Soviet leader prepares to begin a new six-year presidential term in May.
Some, like the anti-corruption blogger Mr Navalny, favour a more radical approach, taking the battle to the authorities by setting up permanent tent camps in central Moscow, as happened in Kiev during the Orange Revolution in 2004. Others such as Sergei Mitrokhin, the chairman of the liberal Yabloko party, believe that engineering standoffs with police will reduce popular support for political change, and play into Mr Putin's hands. "Every provocation will reduce the number of people who come out to these mass meetings," he wrote yesterday in criticism of the decision by some opposition leaders to stay on the square after the rally's official end time had passed.
More detailed official results of Sunday's elections were published yesterday, with the regional breakdown of the vote causing further cause for concern. Mr Putin received 99.76 percent of ballots in Chechnya. In one polling district in Chechnya, Mr Putin received 25675 votes, while none of the other candidates on the ballot made it into double figures.
Many of the other republics in the troubled North Caucasus region also polled improbably high pro-Putin results on improbably high turnouts, while across the country there were allegations that votes had been added illegally for Mr Putin. On a new live talk show broadcast online yesterday, the socialite Ksenia Sobchak brought out a girl who said she had been offered £100 to vote five times for Mr Putin in Moscow at different polling stations.
The Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe said the vote was skewed in Mr Putin's favour earlier this week, and yesterday the Russian Foreign Ministry hit back, calling the OSCE's report "prejudiced and disputable". The ministry also got into a Twitter spat with the US Ambassador, Michael McFaul over the police arrests. He had written on his Twitter feed that it was "troubling" to watch Monday night's arrests at Pushkin Square. The Foreign Ministry, using its official Twitter feed, shot back that people in glass houses should not throw stones. "The Police at Pushkinskaya were many times more humane than we saw when the Occupy Wall Street protests, or tent camps in Europe, were broken up," wrote the ministry.
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