For the past few days thousands of people have gathered to demonstrate against the result of the Duma elections in Russia on December 4. At least 15 000 people gathered in the city centre of Moscow on Monday, December 5; yesterday on Tuesday, December 6, thousands of people gathered not only in Moscow but also in St. Petersburg, as well as in some other large cities; all this makes it the first mass opposition protest in Russia since 1993.
Opposition supporters shouted “Putin is a crook and thief” referring both to the alleged election fraud and to widespread complaints that United Russia party is one of the major reasons for Russia’s widespread corruption. They also shouted “Russia without Putin” in a tense stand-off with hundreds of pro-Kremlin youth Nashi (Ours) and young men with emblems of United Russia’s youth wing (the Young Guards). More than 550 people were detained in the capital on Tuesday evening. About 250 people who tried to hold an unsanctioned rally were arrested in St. Petersburg. Another 25 protesters are said to have been detained at a similar protest in the city of Rostov-na-Donu.
Among those arrested were the head of the Memorial Human Rights Group Oleg Orlov; Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal party of Yabloko; Boris Nemtsov, former Deputy Prime Minister and one of the leaders of People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS), and Eduard Limonov, head of Other Russia Party. (Boris Nemtsov has since been released and all charges against him dropped.)
Earlier on Monday Ilya Yashin, Solidatiry youth leader and chairman of the PARNAS party Moscow local branch, and Alexei Navalny, well-known Russian anticorruption blogger, were detained and both sentenced to 15 days in prison for not obeying the Police.
Meanwhile, at a meeting with United Russia officials on December 6, Putin, who recently announced his plans to return to the presidency in next year’s election, said that he was satisfied with his party’s performance despite the decline. Several major online news outlets, including the online TV station Dozhd and popular blogging platform LiveJournal, have periodically been unavailable since December 4. Independent online media and websites for election observers have also been hit by multiple denial-of-service attacks.
The OSCE’s observers criticised the electoral process for “limited political competition and a lack of fairness” and the “lack of separation between the governing party and the state” threatened the process.
Dmitry Medvedev, Russian President, however, rejected international criticism as amounting to interference in Russia’s internal affairs.
The Foreign Ministry in Moscow dismissed U.S. criticism, in particular, as “unacceptable.”