Putin makes his presence felt as protesters take to Moscow’s streets

Russia without PutinThousands of Russians streamed through metal detectors for hours, past camouflaged trucks and under the whirring blades of a helicopter, to join a mass protest against Vladimir Putin’s official return to the Kremlin.

They were furious and frustrated. Gone were the lighthearted slogans and costumes that had thus far marked the protests that exploded in Moscow in December and carried through Russia’s presidential vote on Sunday.A few held white flowers, a symbol of the peaceful movement. Their white ribbons, until now emblazoned with words like “For a Putin-less Russia”, hung bare.

Many protesters had hoped to force Putin into a second round, proving that Russia’s longtime leader had indeed lost the support of the heartland.Instead they were met with an official result of nearly 64% for Putin, buoyed, election monitors say, by massive fraud. Russia’s elections chief, Vladimir Churov, called the vote the “most honest in the world”.

“It’s not just about falsifications,” said Ivan, 65, an office manager, explaining why he turned out on a workday to stand for two hours in wet, windy snow. “I want our country to be democratic. I want to be led not by crooks and thieves, but by normal people. I want society to democratise, to allow different parties to take part in elections, to allow different people into the presidential election. I want them to stop robbing the country.”

To the 20,000 people who turned out for the protest, Putin wasn’t a president, but a tsar. “These weren’t presidential elections – it was a succession to the throne,” read one large sign held high above protesters’ heads.Opposition leaders, taking to a stage constructed in the shadow of Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s most revered poet, refused, one by one, to recognise a president they denounced as “illegitimate”.

“I’ve heard that a lot of people are disappointed,” opposition leader Alexey Navalny shouted from the stage. “Did you expect something different from these crooks and thieves? They robbed us.””We don’t say we have a monopoly, but we are the people – we have a voice. We are the power here!” he shouted, launching a refrain repeated dozens of times over by the thousands of angry people in the crowd.

He promised that the protests would continue. But he also conceded, in the face of a crowd some five times smaller than those that had gathered before the presidential vote, that change would not come quickly.”Everyone asks, will we be victorious? When will this happen and what should we do? I have two words that answer all these questions: truth and belief,” he said.”We overestimated our numbers a bit. We thought that the rest of the country knows everything that we do.” That was a recognition of the split result – if Putin won 64% of votes around the country, he failed to break the 50% barrier in the capital. – Guardian