Artyom Kolpakov used to shrug when he came across occasional appeals on social media sites to protest against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his government. “I didn’t see the point really,” he said.
But something changed when, clicking through amateur videos and online testimonies documenting cases of ballot-stuffing and repeat voting, he saw others shared his outrage at Putin’s party’s victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election. On Monday evening, Kolpakov, 38, was among several thousand Russians who took to the streets of Moscow in the biggest opposition protest in years.
Such protests against Putin’s rule, as president from 2000 to 2008 and as prime minister since then, have rarely drawn more than about 200 people, some of them Soviet-era dissidents and others activists in marginalized opposition groups.
Typically, they are quickly dispersed by heavy-handed riot police. But Sunday’s rally attracted about 5,000 people and a similar rally on Tuesday drew several hundred.
Many were responding to calls on social networking sites VKontakte and Facebook to “continue the revolution”, and tweets sent by protesters from Triumfalny Square in central Moscow.
“For the first time really the online presence has transformed offline politics,” said Konstantin von Eggert, a commentator for Kommersant FM radio. “The whole thing works like a snowball. This is definitely the start of something that will stay in Russian political life.”