At least 80,000 people protested in Moscow last Saturday against the falsification of parliamentary election results.
Thousands more protested in cities around Russia from St Petersburg to Vladivostock.
The demonstrations came after a week of smaller scale protests in the capital. The regime responded by making hundreds of arrests and sentencing many to administrative detention of up to 15 days.
Vladimir Putin became president of Russia in 2000. His rule was an authoritarian “managed democracy”. Genuine opposition has been sidelined to ensure the power of Kremlin bureaucrats.
After serving the maximum two consecutive terms, Putin swapped places with his puppet, Dmitri Medvedev, to become prime minister. Putin remains the real power in the country.
Presidential elections are due in March next year. Putin assumed he would simply walk back into the presidency for another two terms. But his arrogance has angered many. Now the future does not look so easy for him.
In Bolotnaya Square, just across the river from the Kremlin, there was a light hearted atmosphere. Thousands braved the cold and faced thousands of riot police—nicknamed “cosmonauts” due to the helmets they wear.
They heard opposition speakers from across the political spectrum. There were hundreds of flags from all manner of opposition groups, with various left wing parties well represented.
Many people were carrying homemade placards. For the vast majority this was their very first demonstration.
The atmosphere was angry but good humoured. People chanted “Down with the party of crooks and thieves!”—a reference to the ruling United Russia party.
Mihail, a student from Moscow, said, “I came today to the meeting to support the people. People in Russia are rarely willing to talk about what they think and want.”
Grigory, who had attended the protests earlier in the week, told me he was here “because of the spirit of change in the air”.
The only thing that marred the day was the presence of a contingent of far-right nationalists.
At one point two of them attempted to stop someone waving a gay rights rainbow flag. But bystanders gave them short shrift, shouting, “No to provocation!”
When the far-right leader addressed the crowd, calling for a new ethnic Russian revolution, he was widely booed.
Blatant electoral fraud by United Russia and intimidation of opposition organisations have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for many in Russia.
Suddenly everyone is talking about politics—and there is a real sense that change can happen.
A news anchor with NTV, one of the main government controlled television channels in Russia, threatened a strike at the station if they didn’t cover the protest.
Further protests for fair elections are being planned for the coming days and weeks.