Russia’s protest movement: big, angry, and preparing for the worst

Jeffrey Tayler writes: Perhaps only the police helicopters circling overhead could accurately estimate the number of demonstrators braving the fierce cold to protest on Sakharov Prospekt on 24 December against the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the apparently rigged elections to the State Duma held 20 days earlier. The state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reported the laughably low figure of 29 thousand, the event’s organizers claimed 120 thousand were in attendance (which, as far as I could gauge, appeared closer to the truth); but the respected daily Kommersant put the figure at 200 thousand.

Whatever the number, gone are the times when a small cluster of hardened oppositionists gathered on the central Triumfal’naya Square to suffer almost immediate arrest, without arousing the evident interest or sympathy of passers-by. After several half-measures announced by the government to redress public outrage over the Duma polls and Putin’s televised swipe at demonstrators as condom-draped stooges of Hillary Clinton, the opposition has grown exponentially and hardened the tone of its demands. It has, in short, seized the initiative — and shows no sign of backing down.

Demonstrations took place across Russia on Saturday. But peopling the crowd in Moscow were folks young, middle-aged, and old — some very old, in fact. The speakers, including anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and former World Chess champion Garry Kasparov, delivered blazing denunciations of Putin, President Dmitri Medvedev, and the elections.

The most incendiary address, transmitted via video on a giant screen by the podium, came from Sergey Udaltsov, the 34-year-old leader of the radical left movement Vanguard of the Red Youth. Gaunt, pale, and with shaved head, Udaltsov, in detention and on a hunger strike since his arrest on December 4th, far exceeded in rhetorical vehemence the now commonplace monikers “crooks and thieves” applied to the pro-Putin United Russia party. Putin and Medvedev are, in his trenchant lexicon, “the tandem dwarfs;” more broadly, he labeled them and their colleagues “Kremlin bandits,” “vermin,” “filth,” “swine,” “the dark forces of evil,” not society’s “elite,” but its “shit.”

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