Russia’s Capital Braces For Protests

Posted February 3rd, 2012 at 7:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Tens of thousands of people in Russia are expected to brave the cold weather in Moscow Saturday to participate in what could be the country's first big pro-democracy rally of the year.

Russia's democracy movement is staging the anti-government demonstration exactly one month before the presidential vote to demand greater political freedom. Polls show that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is poised to win a third term in the Kremlin despite his declining popularity.

Mr. Putin's supporters are also planning to rally Saturday, but some Russians have complained they were ordered by their work organizations to participate in the pro-government rally.

Alexei Makarkin, director of the Center for Political Technologies, says the rally will be a test of strength of both sides.

He says that if the turnout is large, the Kremlin will have to continue to offer concessions to the opposition movement. If the turnout is small, the Kremlin will believe it is weathering the storm.

Maxim Trudolubov, editorial page editor of the newspaper, Vedomosti, says turnout is key because the Kremlin only responds to street pressure:

He says that while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has not entered into a dialogue with the democracy movement, his operatives closely watch the size and the slogans of the demonstrations.

The government's biggest ally may be an Arctic cold front that has beset Russia and most of eastern Europe.

Protest organizers cut the march to two kilometers, and told speakers to shorten their speeches. About 30,000 people have signed on social networks to join the Saturday march.

Moscow's media reported complaints from state employees — teachers, nurses, and post office workers — that they have been ordered to attend the pro-government rally. After a state human rights council opened an anonymous hotline for teachers, 140 calls came in.

In an apparent attempt to cut student attendance at opposition protests, Moscow schools will hold a career training day on Saturday.

Mr. Putin served two four-year presidential terms from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister. Russia has since extended the presidential mandate to six years.