The Battle for Moscow: Russian Opposition at Odds Over Path for Future
In the wake of the recent elections in Russia, opponents of newly elected President Vladimir Putin are struggling to find a common approach and viable new slogans. Some suggest that the best way to challenge Putin would be winning control of the Moscow city parliament and mayor’s office.
Sergei Parkhomenko’s face is still red from the icy wind blowing in Moscow. It is 10 p.m. on Wednesday of last week, and Parkhomenko is unwinding in a steakhouse at the Belorussky Rail Terminal, in a neighborhood where Moscow is beginning to look a little like New York. It’s really more of a bar, crowded with hundreds of young people who don’t seem to mind that a steak costs the equivalent of €35 ($47) here. The people who can afford to come here are part of Moscow’s hip and up-and-coming social class.
Parkhomenko, 48, is a journalist. He was the editor-in-chief of several magazines, and then worked as a publisher before taking a sabbatical to pursue a different mission throughout the city. Today Parkhomenko, representing the “League of Voters,” spent six hours negotiating with senior officials from the Moscow police force.
At issue was a demonstration on March 10, by a movement called “For Honest Elections.” It was the second major rally by opponents of the Kremlin in the wake of Russia’s presidential election, this time on New Arbat, a major Moscow shopping avenue. Parkhomenko had managed to wrest a permit for this central location from the city government, and today walked down the street with police officers, past Wesna, a high-end Italian restaurant, the Penthouse strip club and the radio station Echo of Moscow, where he hosts a show on Fridays.
Negotiating with the government for permission to hold a demonstration against the government is a tough battle. It isn’t waged over slogans or watchwords, but over where metal detectors and portable toilets are to be set up, and over how many people will be allowed to stand in each square meter of space. The police have told Parkhomenko that there are to be no more than two-and-a-half people per square meter, and, to complicate matters, they have only approved the sidewalk for protests. It’s 300 meters long and 20 meters wide, or 6,000 square meters, so the demonstration is approved for 15,000 people. The police will only stop traffic at the site of the rally when the 15,001st protestor shows up. And it will be up to the police to determine how many protesters there are.
‘We Have to Face the Truth: Putin Won’
Parkhomenko and his fellow activists want to present new evidence to expose the Kremlin’s trickery. One week after what Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s chief-of-staff called the “cleanest elections in Russian history,” it still isn’t clear what the true results look like.
Parkhomenko relates an incident at his polling station, No. 149, where he says 300 drivers with a Moscow transportation agency suddenly showed up with a special permit to vote there (their director was the head of the polling station), and how almost all of them had voted for Putin. He also describes how, as if by some miracle, the number of eligible voters in Russia increased by 622,551 in the three months since the country’s parliamentary elections.
But even if the Kremlin did tamper with up to 10 percent of the vote, this doesn’t change the fact that Putin is the winner of this election. The numbers alone legitimize his victory. But Russia’s opposition has trouble even accepting this logic.