Shaun Walker: A middle-class revolt that won't be quelled by media blackout

The varying tone of the coverage was a sign of just how divided Russia has become

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State-run television augmented footage of Vladimir Putin's lavish inauguration yesterday with commentary about the history of the Kremlin churches, the ceremonial regiments involved, and the guest list.

But no mention was made of the arrests that were going on at the same time, or of the tens of thousands of people who had come out to protest the previous day. Meanwhile, on the small independent channel TV Rain, correspondents filed live reports from the Boulevard Ring while riot police arrested people in the background, and commentators spoke of a city "under occupation".

The varying tone of the coverage was a sign of just how divided Russia has become, even as Mr Putin spoke of the need for unity. It is hard not to wonder whether Mr Putin is aware of what is going on in his capital city. Whereas Dmitry Medvedev, the interim President, was an internet user, Mr Putin does not venture online, and presumably relies on reports from subordinates. He has in the past said the protesters are paid by the US State Department, and has spoken of a "battle for Russia".

While there are certainly many unsavoury elements to the protest movement – the nationalists, anarchists and other radicals – Sunday's protest was mainly peopled by middle-class Russians who are tired of living in a system they feel gives them no voice.

If Mr Putin really does believe that the opposition to him is not borne of a disgruntled middle class but is instead part of a nefarious Western plot to destabilise Russia, the authorities could well take a harder line against the protest movement. Sunday was also the first time that Muscovites have resisted the riot police and fought back en masse.

Russia is nowhere near a Libya or Syria scenario, but as both sides harden their stances, turbulent times could well be ahead.

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