Moscow prepared for rival rallies yesterday between tens of thousands of Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin supporters and members of Russia’s nascent protest movement ahead of his inauguration to a third Kremlin term.
Russia’s current prime minister will crown his landslide March presidential election victory with a glitzy inauguration today that includes a booming 30-gun salute and a special blessing from Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill I.
Leaders of the winter protests that gripped Moscow following fraud-tainted legislative polls in December had set yesterday as their target for showing the ex-KGB spy how far Russia had evolved since his 2000-2008 reign.
A campaign poster released over the social networks — the main front of their winter campaign — showed a stark black-and-white picture of Putin with a message for him to “Stop Lying and Stealing!” The opposition also announced plans for a “March of Millions” that would take the Russian capital by storm.
However, only 10,000 people pledged their attendance on Russia’s VK Internet forum, while police reports from the Siberian city of Irkutsk said only 70 protesters had come to an opposition event organized for more than 1,000 people.
A police source in the Far East port of Vladivostok reported that just 50 people had turned out for a march along the struggling city’s main road.
The flagging protest numbers underscore the trouble the fractured movement — its ranks filled with everyone from veteran liberals to teenage Stalinists — will have in finding direction in the course of Putin’s six-year term.
The media has been dominated by the state since the Russian strongman’s first term, while his 46-point win over his nearest rival emphasized that criticism of party politics does not necessarily translate to criticizing Putin himself.
His supporters made sure that the opposition did not get the last say before today’s ceremony by vowing to bring out more than 50,000 people for a “celebration” at Victory Park — a site dedicated to Russia’s 1812 defeat of Napoleon.
The event was set to begin just two hours after the opposition rally and officially timed to coincide with the first anniversary of Putin’s decision to create a new movement called the All-Russian People’s Front.
The group is tipped to become Putin’s primary power base during the first of what could potentially become two new terms for the 59-year-old.
A top city official said Putin’s group did not need permission to bring out such large numbers onto a public square, because “what they will be having is not a rally or a march or a protest.”
“It will be a mass cultural event,” Moscow regional security department head Alexei Mayorov told Russian news agencies.
The entire transition from outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to his mentor has been tightly scripted from the moment their intended job swap was revealed to the public last year.