Russia’s day of anti-Putin protests ends with drama, uncertainty about future
Tens of thousands of people held the largest anti-government protests that post-Soviet Russia has ever seen to criticize electoral fraud and demand an end to Vladimir Putin’s rule. Police showed surprising restraint and state-controlled TV gave the nationwide demonstrations unexpected airtime, but there is no indication the opposition is strong enough to push for real change from the prime minister or his ruling party.
Nonetheless, the prime minister seems to be in a weaker position than he was a week ago, before Russians voted in parliamentary elections. His United Party lost a substantial share of its seats, although it retains a majority.
The independent Russian election-observer group Golos said Saturday that “it achieved the majority mandate by falsification,” international observers reported widespread irregularities, and the outpouring of Russians publicly denouncing him throughout the country undermines Putin’s carefully nurtured image of a strong and beloved leader.
Putin “has stopped being the national leader — in the eyes of his team, the ruling political class and society,” analyst Alexei Malachenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center wrote on his blog.
Putin, who was the president of Russia in 2000-2008 before stepping aside because of term limits, will seek a new term in the Kremlin in the March presidential elections. The protests have tarnished his campaign, but there is not yet any obvious strong challenger.
A statement released late Saturday by Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, acknowledged the day’s protests by people “displeased” with the elections but noted demonstrations in support of the elections in recent days.