The exact number of protesters present is unknown; estimates for the Moscow protest vary from twenty thousand to one hundred thousand, and rallies on a more minor scale also took place in other Russian cities—including Saint Petersburg. Voice of America (VoA) reported the demonstrations as the largest pro-democracy protests since Vladimir Putin came to power eleven years ago. Other reports describe the demonstrations as the greatest since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Police estimated that ten thousand people were present at demonstrations in St. Petersburg. Corruption and a rejection of Putin were the most commonly-cited grievances from questioned protesters.
Opposition leader Evgenia Chirikova told VoA the protests were in favour of fresh elections, and the release of political prisoners. During the demonstrations, protesters chanted “[p]olice, part of the people” at the riot police. Echo of Moscow host Alexei Venediktov described the protesters as “the new generation, the Putin generation”. These people “voted, had their votes stolen, and now they want a fair system”, said Venediktov.
Konstantin Kosachyov, a United Russia parliamentarian, dismissed the concept of discussions with the protest organisers. “With all respect for the people who came out to protest, they are not a political party,” he stated. Student Daniil Klubov, a leader of the St. Petersburg rally, told the BBC that he does not “belong to any political movement” and is “just a student who is tired of all these lies”.
Last week, Russian police arrested an estimated 1,600 people after street protests. In anticipation of yesterday’s protests, fifty thousand police and riot police were drafted into Moscow. Under one hundred arrests were made across the country during the day of protest.
Television stations operated by the Russian government provided no coverage of protests in Russia from last week’s election, but lifted the blackout one week on, broadcasting images of thousands filling a Moscow park, spilling over a bridge and covering a facing embankment.
On Friday, Moscow authorities declared an obligatory test for all high school students, scheduling it for the exact time of protests on Saturday; protest leader Alexey Navalny is currently imprisoned by order of a Russian judge. And, a Russian health board warned of respiratory diseases being contracted when being in large crowds. Russian Ground Forces cautioned that they would be observing, looking for instances of draft evasion as protesters walked through metal detectors.
Although United Russia were declared victors in last Sunday’s polls, the percentage of votes in their favour decreased significantly—down from 64% to 49%. In March next year, Putin himself will face voters, seeking a new six-year term as Russian President. VoA reported last week that his presidential bid looked likely to succeed; however, that outcome now seems less predictable.