Tens of thousands of Russians are expected to take to the streets on Saturday despite Kremlin efforts to ease tensions over disputed elections and Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the presidency. More than 50,000 people have indicated their intention to attend a protest on Moscow’s Sakharov Prospect, named after the late leading Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Thousands more have signed up via social networking sites for protests in more than 80 Russian cities.
The protesters are hoping to capitalise on the momentum launched earlier this month, when up to 50,000 people turned out in Moscow alone demanding the Kremlin overturn parliamentary election results that saw Putin’s United Russia take a majority in the Duma despite widespread accusations of fraud.
The former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the novelist Boris Akunin, the anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak, the Russian “It Girl” and daughter of Putin’s mentor, are among those expected to address the crowd. Protesters will don white ribbons to symbolise their opposition to the election results, which they say are a sign of their country’s lack of democracy. The oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who is running against Putin, also said he would address the rally.
The Russian leadership has played a double game of mocking the protesters while proposing to liberalise the country’s political system as it struggles to confront the largest ever challenge to its rule. Putin has twice compared the protesters’ ribbons to condoms and repeatedly accused them of being in the pay of the US state department, while Dmitry Medvedev, the more liberal president, has issued a series of proposals to loosen the election laws.
Protest organisers, holding their final organising committee meeting on Friday, said that Medvedev’s proposals, issued during his final state of the nation address on Thursday, were not enough.
“It is not an answer – it’s not what Bolotnaya expects and not what Sakharov Prospect expects,” said the opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, referring to the two protest sites. “Medvedev didn’t answer a host of our demands.”
Protesters are calling for election results to be overturned, the elections committee chief Vladimir Churov to be fired and political prisoners to be released. They have also begun to turn their attention to a 4 March presidential election, calling on disaffected Russians to vote against Putin as he seeks to return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.