2011–13 Russian protests

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2011–13 Russian protests
Part of Russian opposition protests rallies:
Dissenters' Marches (2005–2008), Russian Marches, Strategy-31 (since 2009), etc.
alt = A crowd of enthusiastic protesters on Academician Sakharov Avenue, Moscow. Many balloons, posters, and flags. The protesters are bundled up on a cold overcast Winter day.
Rally at the Academician Sakharov Avenue, Moscow, 24 December 2011
Date 4 December 2011–ongoing
Location Russia
Causes
  • fraudulent elections
  • corruption
Goals
  • Fair elections ("For Fair Elections" protests)
  • Preventing colour revolution ("anti-Orange" protests)
  • Immediate release of all political prisoners
  • Announcement of the elections were rigged and therefore cancellation of their results
  • Resignation of Churov and an investigation of its activities, the investigation of all available, according to the opposition, violations and falsifications, the punishment of perpetrators.
  • Registration of opposition parties, the adoption of a democratic law on political parties and elections
  • Implementation of the new open and fair elections
Methods Demonstrations, Internet activism
Result
  • More coverage of the opposition on TV
  • pre-planned liberal electoral reform carried on faster[dubious ]
  • clamp-down on opposition rallies with increased fines
Parties to the civil conflict

Russian opposition

Lead figures
Number

"Anti-Orange"

  • 500 per media,[1][2] 5,000 per organisers[3]
    (Moscow, 24 December 2011)
  • 138,000 per police[4]
    (Moscow, 4 February 2012)
  • 50,000[5]
    (the rest of the country, 4 February 2012)

Pro-Putin rallies

  • 130,000 per police[6]
    (Moscow, 23 February 2012)
  • 110,000 per police[7]
    (Moscow, 4 March 2012)

"For Fair Elections"

  • 25,000 per police, 60,000 per organizers[8][9]
    (Moscow, 10 December 2011)
  • 28,000 per police, 120,000 per organizers[10][11]
    (Moscow, 24 December 2011)
  • 36,000 per police, 160,000 per organizers[4]
    (Moscow, 4 February 2012)
Casualties
Arrested over 1,000[12][13]
(almost all on the first day, some more arrests on the post-2012 election protests)

The 2011–13 Russian protests (in some English language media dubbed the Snow Revolution)[14] first began as a response to the 2011 Russian legislative election process, which many Russian and foreign journalists, political activists and members of the public considered to be flawed,[15] and continued, despite statements from the Central Election Commission that only 11.5% of official reports of fraud could be confirmed to be true.[16]

On 10 December 2011, after a week of small-scale demonstrations, Russia saw some of the biggest protests in Moscow since the 1990s. The focus of the protests have been the ruling party, United Russia, and its leader Vladimir Putin, the current president, previous prime minister, and previous two-term president, who announced his intention to run again for President in 2012. Another round of large protests took place on 24 December 2011. These protests were named "For Fair Elections" and their organizers set up the movement of the same name. By this time, the "For Fair Elections" protesters had coalesced into five main points: freedom for political prisoners; annulment of the election results; the resignation of Vladimir Churov (head of the election commission) and the opening of an official investigation into vote fraud; registration of opposition parties and new democratic legislation on parties and elections, as well as new democratic and open elections.[17]

Initial protest actions, organized by the leaders of the Russian opposition and "non-systemic opposition" sparked fear in some quarters of a colour revolution in Russia, and a number of counter-protests and rallies in support of the government were held. On the first days following the election, Putin and United Russia were supported by rallies of the youth organisations Nashi and Young Guard. On 24 December Sergey Kurginyan organised the first protest against what was viewed as "orange" protesters in Moscow, though the protest also supported the slogan "For Fair Elections".[18] On 4 February 2012, more protests and pro-government rallies were held throughout the country. The largest two events were in Moscow: the "anti-Orange protest"[19] (alluding to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the most widely known color revolution to Russians), aimed against "orangism", "collapse of the country", "perestroika" and "revolution",[20] the largest protest action of all the protests so far according to the police;[5][20][21] and another "For Fair Elections" protest, larger than the previous ones according to the police.[20][22]

On 6 May 2012, protests took place in Moscow the day before Putin's inauguration as President for his third term. Some called for the inauguration to be scrapped. The protests were marred by violence between the protesters and the police. About 400 protesters were arrested, including Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Udaltsov[23][24] and 80 were injured.[25] On the day of the inauguration, 7 May, at least 120 protesters were arrested in Moscow.[25]

In June 2012, laws were enacted which set strict boundaries on protests and imposed heavy penalties for unauthorized actions. As of January 2013, interviews by Ellen Barry of The New York Times of working class elements which had supported the protests revealed an atmosphere of intimidation, discouragement, and alienation.[26]

Background[edit]

Previous protest rallies in 2000s[edit]

In the 2000s, due to increased restrictions in the election legislation and the takeover of large media under state control, a non-system opposition emerged, which was barred from participation in elections. This time, it included both left and right organisations, as well as nationalists.

The largest protests and main opposition events include rallies to support the old NTV staff (2001), mass protests against Mikhail Zurabov's reforms (2005), Dissenters' March (2005–2008), Russian Marches, "I am free! I forgot what it means to fear" rallies for freedom of the press (2005–2006 and 2008), Vladivostok mass protests (2008—2010), Kaliningrad mass protests (2009—2010), Day of Wrath (Left Front actions) (2009–2011), Putin.Results and Putin.Corruption campaign, Putin must go campaign, Strategy-31 (for freedom of assembly) (2009–), etc.

Committee 2008, wide coalition The Other Russia, Yabloko, Union of Right Forces, Vanguard of Red Youth, Left Front, Russian People's Democratic Union, United Civil Front, movement for Khimki forest, Solidarnost, TIGER, Society of Blue Buckets, Coalition "For Russia without Lawlessness and Corruption", etc. were among the main opposition groups within disorganized 2000s protest movement.

2011 election[edit]

According to RIA Novosti, there were more than 1,100 official reports of election irregularities across the country, including allegations of vote fraud, obstruction of observers and illegal campaigning.[16] Members of the A Just Russia, Yabloko and Communist parties reported that voters were shuttled between multiple polling stations to cast several ballots. The Yabloko and LDPR parties reported that some of their observers had been banned from witnessing the sealing of the ballot boxes and from gathering video footage, and some were groundlessly expelled from polling stations.[27] The ruling United Russia party alleged that the opposition parties had engaged in illegal campaigning by distributing leaflets and newspapers at polling stations and that at some polling stations the voters had been ordered to vote for the Communist party with threats of violence.[27] There were several reports of almost undetectable vote fraud—swapping of final polling station protocols just before final accounting by station chairmen—that happened late at night when most observers were gone.[28][29]

The Central Electoral Commission issued a report on 3 February 2012, in which it said that it received the total of 1686 reports on irregularities, of which only 195 (11.5%) were upheld after investigation. A third (584) actually contained questions about the unclear points of electoral law, and only 60 complaints were claiming falsifications of the elections results.[16] On 4 February 2012 the Investigation Committee of the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation announced that the majority of videos allegedly showing falsifications at polling stations were in fact falsified and originally distributed from a single server in California, and the investigation on that started.[30]

Despite the official findings, protests carried on up to and beyond 4 March presidential election.

Demographic and economic basis[edit]

According to the New York Times, the leading element has consisted of young urban professionals, the well-educated and successful working or middle class people[31] such as workers in social media.[32] These groups had benefited from substantial growth in the Russian economy until the 2008 economic crisis but have been alienated by increasing political corruption as well as recent stagnation in their income. The number of such individuals is large and growing in urban centers and is thought to represent a challenge to continuation of authoritarian rule.[33] According to Putin the legitimate grievances of this young and active element of Russian society are being exploited by opportunistic elements which seek to destabilize Russia.[34] Nationalist elements play a significant role in the coalition which is organizing and participating in the protests.[35]

Protests against the government[edit]

4 December 2011[edit]

On 4 November 2011, during the annual Russian March event, representatives of "The Russians" movement declared a protest action planned for election day after polling districts closed.[36] As there was no official rally permit, the action by "The Russians" was unapproved and took place on 4 December at 21:00 in Moscow. The statement of non-recognition of electoral results spread widely. Сitizens were called upon to create self-governing institutions reflecting national interests and were told of falsifications and frauds said to have occurred during the elections. Alexander Belov declared the beginning of the "Putin, go away!" campaign.[37] The protest action, in which several hundreds persons participated, led to running battles with riot police. Leaders of "The Russians" Alexander Belov, Dmitry Dyomushkin, George Borovikov were arrested along with dozens of other nationalists. The head of the banned Movement Against Illegal Immigration organization Vladimir Yermolaev was detained at a voting station where he was an observer. Mass detentions of other public organizations occurred in Moscow. According to police some 258 persons have been detained.[38][39][40]

5–7 December 2011[edit]

On 5 December, around 5,000 opponents of the government began protesting in Moscow, denouncing Vladimir Putin and his government and what they believed were flawed elections. Campaigners argued that the elections had been a sham and demanded that Putin step down, whilst some demanded revolution.[15][41] Alexey Navalny, a top blogger and anti-corruption activist who branded Putin's United Russia party as the "party of crooks and thieves", is credited with initial mobilization of mass protests through postings on his LiveJournal blog and Twitter account. Navalny's agitation was denounced by United Russia as "typical dirty self-promotion" and a profane tweet describing Navalny as a sheep engaged in oral sex originated from Medvedev's Twitter account.[42][43]

Many pro-government supporters, including the pro-Putin youth group Nashi, were mobilized on 6 December at the site of the planned demonstration where they made noise in support of the government and United Russia.[44] There was a 15,000-strong rally of Nashi on Manezhnaya Square[45] and an 8,000-strong rally of the Young Guard on Revolution Square.[46] About 500 pro-United Russia activists marched near Red Square.[47] Truckloads of soldiers and police, as well as a water cannon, were deployed ahead of expected anti-government protests. It emerged that 300 protesters had been arrested in Moscow the night before, along with 120 in St. Petersburg.[48] During the night of 6 December, at least 600 protesters were reported to be in Triumphalnaya square chanting slogans against Putin,[15] whilst anti-government protesters at Revolution Square clashed with riot police and interior ministry troops. The police chased around 100 away, arresting some.[49] Protest numbers later reportedly reached over 1,000 at Triumphalnaya Square and dozens of arrests were reported, including Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader and former deputy prime minister,[50] and Alexey Navalny.[51] Over 250 arrests were made, with police using buses to transport the suspects to police stations to be charged. At least one Russian journalist claimed he was beaten by police officers who stamped on him and hit his legs with batons.[52] Another 200 arrests were reported in St. Petersburg and 25 in Rostov the same night as anti-government demonstrations took place. After three and a half hours, the Moscow protest came to an end.[53]

Attempts to stage a large protest in Moscow on 7 December fizzled out due to a large police presence in the city.[13]

10 December 2011[edit]

Rally in Pionerskaya Square in Saint Petersburg on 10 December 2011.
Rally in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on 10 December 2011
Protesters, 10 December, Bolotnaya Square, signs saying "Stop lying!" and listing the number of votes for each party on one of the polling stations, with United Russia at 19%.

Via a Facebook group "Суббота на Болотной площади" (Saturday at Bolotnaya Square),[54] a call was made for a mass protest against the government on Saturday 10 December.[55][56] Prior to the demonstration newspapers commented that tens of thousands of Facebook users had positively responded to invitations to demonstrate in Moscow,[57][58] and, similarly, over 5,000 in St. Petersburg.[59] A permit had originally been issued to the group Solidarnost for a legal demonstration of 300 people in Revolution Square. By 8 December, more than 30,000[54] had accepted the Facebook invitation to attend. After negotiations with the demonstrators an alternative location for a 30,000-person demonstration was authorized by the Moscow government for the demonstration which took place on 10 December on Bolotnaya Square.[60] Prior to the demonstration, threats were made by Putin that police and security forces would be deployed to deal with anyone participating in illegal protests in Moscow or other cities; however, the event, when it took place, was peaceful and without attempts by the state to prevent or disrupt it.[61][62] Rapper Noize MC and author Boris Akunin both agreed to address the crowds, the latter flying in specially from Paris for the occasion.[63] Guerrilla theater by FEMEN and the circulation of a photoshopped image of Putin dressed as Muammar Gaddafi accompanied the protests.[64][65]

Attempts to disrupt the protests and the organizations supporting them included repeated prank calls to Yabloko and Novaya Gazeta. Russia's chief public health official, Gennady Onishchenko, warned on Friday that protesters risked respiratory infections such as the flu or SARS.[63] Warnings were issued that the police would be looking for draft dodgers at the protests. Students in Moscow were ordered to report Saturday during the time scheduled for the demonstration to an exam followed by a special class[63] conducted by headmasters regarding "rules of safe behavior in the city." Opposition Twitter posts were spammed by a botnet and a YouTube video, Москва! Болотная площадь! 10 Декабря! (Moscow! Bolotnaya square! 10 December!), was posted of orcs storming a castle shouting, "Russia without Putin."[64]

The Telegraph reported at 10:40 GMT that "Half an hour into what is likely to be Moscow's biggest demonstration since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's biggest state-controlled television station, Channel One, has no mention of the popular unrest on its website."[66] Journalist Andrew Osborn noted a bad 3G telephone signal in Bolotnaya Square, asking "Wonder if they have deliberately shut off in protest area [sic]".[66] The Guardian also reported that mobile internet had been "cut off" in the square.[17]

The Moscow demonstration was generally peaceful ending in the afternoon with the singing of Viktor Tsoi's song "Peremen" meaning "Changes", a perestroika anthem from the 1980s. Reports of the demonstration including its large size and demands for new elections were carried on the evening news in Russia by state controlled media.[61]

Police in Moscow estimated the protest numbers to be around 25,000, whilst the opposition claimed over 50,000 people were present during the demonstration.[8] Other activists claimed as many as 60,000 protesters in Bolotnaya Square, Moscow.[9]

Demands[edit]

Protester in Bolotnaya Square, 10 December. The sign says, "I did not vote for these bastards (United Russia mocking logo), I voted for other bastards (Yabloko, Spravedlivaya Rossiya, CPRF logos). I want votes re-counted."

While particular demands were not apparent in the first few days of the protests, by 10 December they had coallesced into five main points:[17]

  1. Freedom for political prisoners
  2. Annulment of the election results
  3. The resignation of Vladimir Churov, head of the election commission, and an official investigation of vote fraud
  4. Registration of the opposition parties and new democratic legislation on parties and elections
  5. New democratic and open elections

Speakers on Bolotnaya Square[edit]

Various politicians and celebrities addressed the crowd, including:

Other cities[edit]

Nizhny Novgorod. Rally against the official results of the Russian legislative election 2011.

Like in Moscow, protests were planned to take place in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Kaliningrad, as well as 88 other towns and cities in Russia.[68][69] Smaller protests were reported in Tomsk,[8] Omsk,[70] Arkhangelsk, Murmansk,[70] Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Kurgan,[70] Perm, Karelia,[71] Khabarovsk,[72] Kazan[73] and Nizhny Novgorod.[74]

At least 10,000 protesters turned out in St. Petersburg, 3,000 in Novosibirsk,[75] whilst 4,000 others rallied in Yekaterinburg.[76] At least 1,000 people rallied in the port city of Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific coast.[77]

"Sympathy protests" are also being held abroad. In London, the former parliamentary aide accused of being a Russian spy Katia Zatuliveter turned up holding a banner saying: "Russian vote 146 per cent fair".[66]

Some sources report only 100 arrests nationwide on 10 December due to the protests, mostly outside Moscow, which is a significantly smaller number than previous protests.[78] In Kazan, however, at least 100 protesters, mainly in their early 20s, were detained for failure to disperse.[79]

17–18 December 2011[edit]

Yabloko party meeting at Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, 2011-12-17

On 17 December another meeting was held at Bolotnaya Square in Moscow against the election fraud. The rally was organized by Yabloko but members of other political parties participated as well. Among the speakers were Grigory Yavlinsky and Sergey Mitrokhin from Yabloko and Vladimir Ryzhkov from the People's Freedom Party. The Moscow Police claimed there were 1500 demonstrators but eyewitnesses claimed there were up to 5000 people at the peak of the demonstration.[80][81] In any case, the turnout was far below that of the multi-party rally of 10 December.[82][83][84][85][86][87][88]

Communist Party of the Russian Federation meeting at Manezhnaya Square, Moscow, 18 December 2011

A rally was held on 18 December in Moscow, organized by Communist Party of the Russian Federation in Moscow and took place at Manezhnaya Square.[89] Several thousand supporters turned out, but many were elderly.[67]

Another smaller rally took place in Saint Petersburg at Pionerskaya Square.[90]

Gennady Zyuganov, head of the party and its candidate for President of Russia, has denounced election regularities but has also expressed his opposition to the organizers of the mass demonstrations who he views as ultra liberals who are exploiting unrest.[67]

24 December 2011[edit]

Moscow rally 24 December 2011, Academician Sakharov Avenue. The sign (in the image right side) says "The right way, comrades! Colonel Putin and Colonel Gaddafi"
Alexey Navalny speaks at Moscow rally 24 December 2011, Academician Sakharov Avenue. Slogan "For Fair Elections"

There were large followup demonstrations 24 December including a rally "For Fair Elections" at Academician Sakharov Avenue in Moscow.[91][92] There were rallies in Vladivostok, Novosibirsk, Orenburg, Chelyabinsk, Saratov, Nizhny Novgorod and two in Saint Petersburg.[93][94]

A podium was built at the end of the 700-metre (0.43-mile) avenue. On the podium were slogans, "Russia will be free" and "This election Is a farce."[95]

The atmosphere was peaceful but at least 40 bus loads of riot police were standing by as thousands of protesters demonstrated, with a total of up to 50,000 expected to arrive during the day. Alexei Kudrin, a former Putin insider, spoke advocating dialogue.[93] He was booed by some, but cheered by others.[96]

At least 21,000 protesters were in Moscow by 11:10 am GMT, according to Itar Tass, and there were at least 100 arrests in Vladivostok. According to on scene reporters, the atmosphere was fun, with white ribbons and balloons and condom-themed banners – a mocking reference to Vladimir Putin saying he believed the white ribbons, the protest movements symbol, were to promote safe sex.[97]

The Interior Ministry estimated that at least 28,000 people had turned up,[10] whilst some in the opposition claimed 120,000 protesters were in Moscow. Reporters of the Moscow Times said the figure was well above the 30,000 to 60,000 at the previous event and that there were about 80,000 protesters who came to this rally.[11] The infographics from RIA Novosti shows that the Sakharov Avenue can provide room for a maximum of 96,000 people at a density of 35 people per 10 sq m, or for 55,000 people at a smaller and more realistic density distribution.[98]

Alexei Navalny, greeted with a ovation when he finally spoke,[96] said there were enough people present at the protest to march to and overrun the Kremlin, but that they were committed to remaining peaceful, at least for the moment.[99]

I can see that there are enough people here to seize the Kremlin and the White House right now. We are a peaceful force and will not do it now. But if these crooks and thieves try to go on cheating us, if they continue telling lies and stealing from us, we will take what belongs to us with our own hands. ... These days, with the help of the zombie-box, they are trying to prove to us that they are big and scary beasts. But we know who they are. Little sneaky jackals! Is that right? Is that true or not?[96]

The crowd reportedly included liberals, anarchists, communists, nationalists and monarchists.[100]

Mikhail Gorbachev did not attend or speak but sent a message of support.[92] On the day of the rally, the former Soviet President called on Putin to resign.[101]

Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire independent presidential candidate, was in the crowd but did not speak.[96]

Speakers on Sakharov Avenue[edit]

Speakers have been arranged by Alexey Navalny, Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, and Vladimir Tor, based on the principle of representation of different political forces.[102] The last speaker was Grandfather Frost who wished everyone a "Happy New Year.[92]

Related controversies[edit]

Nemtsov phone conversations controversy[edit]

On 19 December, Lifenews.ru news portal published[103][104] a recording of phone conversations ascribed to Boris Nemtsov, the leader of PARNAS People's Freedom Party, and one of the main organizers of the demonstration on Bolotnaya square on 10 December. According to one of the recordings, which were called by Nemtsov himself[105] "partially authentic, partially montaged and partially fake", he considers protesters "lemmings" (Russian: "хомячки"), "timid penguins" from Facebook and Vkontakte social networks, and claims he is "forced to represent" these people. In other recordings, he used profanities and referenced to the sexual life of some other leaders of the demonstration. He also called another prominent leader of protests, Alexey Navalny "a specialist of manipulating the internet mob". Nemtsov later apologized[105] to several leaders he characterized in these conversations, but not to protesters, and claimed that people that made recordings available to the public committed a crime.[105] Lifenews.ru claimed at least 3 million visitors coming to the site during the day, and the site was not accessible for some time.[106]

American embassy visit by organizers[edit]

On 17 January, on the first day after the new United States Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul arrived in the country, a number of organizers and prominent participants of the protests, as well as some prominent figures of opposition parties, visited the Embassy of the United States in Moscow. On a video later released on YouTube[107] opposition activists are shown at the entrance to the embassy encountered by TV journalists who asked them why they came to the new Ambassador.[108] Most opposition activists did not answer, while Boris Nemtsov said he came to ask Ambassador "How was he appointed Ambassador?"[108] Later, when they leave the embassy and were again encircled by journalists, opposition activists said loudly "You are Surkovian propaganda!" and gave no other comments.[108] The incident sparked a highly negative reaction in some sections of the Russian media[which?] and blogs.[which?][108][109] but President Dmitry Medvedev in his public comments at Moscow State University largely exonerated McFaul by saying that meeting with opposition figures was a routine occurrence, although he warned the new U.S. ambassador to Moscow that he is on Russian soil and should respect Russian political sensibilities.[109]

The visitors to Michael McFaul included:

Two weeks later, journalist Olga Romanova who managed the financial spending of the December protests, also visited the American Embassy. She said that she discussed Russian protests and the United States Presidential election campaign with McFaul.[110]

Previously in June, in an interview to a news portal Slon.ru[111] McFaul described himself as "specialist on democracy, anti-dictator movements, revolutions".[112]

4 February 2012[edit]

Protesters march on Yakimanka street, Moscow, 4 February.
Protesters at Bolotnaya Square, Moscow, 4 February.
Cologne, Germany (in front of the Cologne Cathedral). Rally for fair elections in Russia by the Russian-speaking population of Northrhine-Westphalia at 4-th of February 2012.

Despite temperatures of −20 degrees Celsius a third demonstration was carried out in Moscow by the For Fair Elections movement on 4 February, with 160,000 participants according to organizers or 38,000 participants according to the police. According to the state-run Ria Novosti's calculations, the Bolotnaya Square site provides room for a maximum of 101,000 people at a maximum density of 35 people per 10 sq m on the quay and 15 people per 10 sq m in the park, or for 53,000 people at a smaller and less compact density distribution.[113]

This time the demonstration started with a march from Kaluzhskaya Square to Bolotnaya Square where a meeting was held. The anti-Putin protesters carried white balloons and were wearing white ribbons. They chanted "Putin, Go Away!" and "Russia without Putin!". One of the banners read "Putin is a person without shame or conscience".[114]

Among the speakers were Yevgeniya Chirikova, Gennady Gudkov, Leonid Parfyonov, Olga Romanova, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Sergei Udaltsov, Ilya Yashin and Grigory Yavlinsky. The meeting was ended by Yuri Shevchuk who sang his famous song "Rodina" (Motherland).[115][115] The same day demonstrations were being held in other cities throughout Russia such as St Petersburg, Kazan, Kaliningrad, Nizhni Novgorod, Penza and Yaroslavl. Also the Russian-speaking population of other countries organized rallies worldwide with scimilar demands: Germany, Israel, USA.

The organisers of the third Moscow "For Fair Elections" protest had difficulties originally financing the protest because contributions from the public had waned by January 2012, so they financed the organisation of the protest with money collected earlier for other events.[116]

26 February 2012[edit]

At least 3,500 people demonstrated against Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg, under heavy police presence, but no arrests were made.[117] In Moscow on Sunday 26 February up to 30,000 people[118] lined the Garden Ring in a protest called the Big White Circle. White clothes and white ribbons were worn as protestors formed a nine-mile human chain[66] holding a white banner.[119] The event was described as an apolitical "act of unity" to avoid the official permission which protests require.[66]

5 March 2012[edit]

Moscow rally 5 March 2012 at Pushkin Square
Moscow rally 5 March 2012 at Pushkin Square: police forces shifted to the Pushkin Square

In response to Vladimir Putin's reelection during the Presidential Elections, protesters took to the streets of Moscow. After being denied to demonstrate on Lubyanka Square up to 25,000 people protested in Pushkin Square. A couple of thousand protestors stayed behind and clashed with riot police who moved in to disperse them, leading to several hundred arrests, including Alexey Navalny, Sergey Udaltsov and Ilya Yashin. Anti-government protests also took place in St Petersburg too, albeit smaller, at 3,000 people where 300 were arrested.[120][121]

10 March 2012[edit]

Another "For Fair Elections" protest was staged on the Novy Arbat street in Moscow. A permit was issued for 50,000,[122] but just 25,000 thousand came according to the organisers and 10,000 according to the police.[123][124][125] The mood was downbeat after Putin won an absolute majority everywhere but Moscow where he garnered 46.95% of the vote. Sergei Udaltsov of Left Front, called for a massive demonstration 1 May, but no further protests are scheduled.[126][127]

18 March 2012[edit]

Up to 1000 protesters gathered at an unsactioned demonstration at the Ostankino television tower and 94 were arrested.[128] They were protesting against a documentary called The Anatomy of Protest, which had been shown on 15 March on NTV, a channel owned by Gazprom, a state-run firm.[129] The documentary claimed that protesters against the election of Putin as president had been given "money and cookies" as payment.[129] It also claimed that Alexei Navalny, a well-known opposition blogger, had been "spreading misinformation" and had "too many bodyguards" who were "beating up journalists".[129] Protesters wore white ribbons and chanted "Shame on NTV!"[128][129]

8 April 2012[edit]

For the first time since the beginning of the protests, opposition activists were allowed onto Red Square to demonstrate, though they were not allowed to pitch a tent. Just the previous weekend protesters were barred from the square and arrests made. This time, "hundreds" gathered, including Yevgenia Chirikova and Sergei Udaltsov.[130]

Astrakhan mayoral election of 2012[edit]

After fraud was alleged in the mayoral election of 2012 in Astrakhan and the United Russia candidate was declared the winner, organizers of the 2011–2012 Russian protests supported the defeated candidate, Oleg V. Shein of Just Russia, in a hunger strike. Substantial evidence of fraud was cited by the protesters but an official investigation failed to find significant violations.[131] The activists from Moscow found it difficult to gain traction over the issue with local residents who, like most Russians, accept political corruption as a given that is useless to protest.[132] The emissaries from Moscow persisted, buoyed by celebrities who support the reform movement, drawing 1,500 to a rally on 14 April.[133]

6 and 7 May 2012[edit]

Main article: Bolotnaya square case
The police cordons on Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge 6 May 2012

Protests involving about 20,000 people took place in Moscow the day before Putin's inauguration as President for his third term. Some called for the inauguration to be scrapped. The protests were marred by violence between the protesters and the police. About 400 protesters were arrested, including Alexei Navalny, Boris Nemtsov and Sergei Udaltsov[23][24] and 80 were injured.[25] On the day of the inauguration, at least 120 protesters were arrested in Moscow.[25] Police also detained over 100 young men of conscription age (18–27), including 70 who had avoided the military draft.[134]

From the very beginning, the so-called "March of Millions" was a nervous event. Even before the march, many large liberal media sites: Echo Moscow radio station, Kommersant daily, and Dozhd TV channel, were subjected to DDoS-attacks.[135] Ilya Ponomarev, an opposition leader and member of parliament, said the police had started the clashes. "The police started it. Bolotnaya square filled up and the police sealed it off. when they started to push demonstrators, and people reacted," he said.[136] Analytical article of Lenta.ru reported, that "Moscow had not seen such large-scale street battles for twenty years".[137] Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's press secretary, Dmitri Peskov said he believed the police were being too soft on the protesters.[138]

Gazeta.ru reported "The efforts that the law enforcement are going to in order to provoke the protesters are so evident, it's impossible to remain blind to the plan of radicalization of peaceful protests behind their actions. This mutual willingness for violence has allowed both sides, with help of several provocations, to turn a peaceful march into a massive clash, the scale of which Moscow hasn't seen since the 90's. That was the mobilization. War follows. Both sides expect only victory, of course."[139]

Several hundreds meetings continued on 6/7 night, 7, 7/8 night and 8 May in different places in Moscow. Opposition leaders were arrested again. The arrests continued in the following months. Among the arrested was a prominent human rights activist Nikolay Kavkazsky who was arrested on 25 July th and who has been held in custody ever since.

The authorities' crackdown on the pro-democratic movement resulted in what has come to be known as the "Bolotnaya square case".

12 June 2012[edit]

a sticker posted in public about 12 June protest
The Red Square was closed during the days of and leading to 12 June protest

A peaceful protest rally by tens of thousands, protest organizers estimated their numbers at 50,000, while police put it at 15,000,[140] originating at Pushkin Square was held in Moscow on 12 June 2012, Russia Day. The rally was preceded by soaking rain; there was a thunderstorm after a few hours.[141] Protest activities fell within the conditions of the permit which had been issued by the authorities. A call by Sergei Udaltsov to march on the Investigative Committee of Russia which had raided organizers' homes on 11 June was rejected by other protest organizers.[142][143] The protest rally defied an atmosphere of intimidation and repression fostered by the Putin administration: The previous day, police had raided the homes of various opposition leaders and called them in for interrogation an hour before the protest was due to start on 12 June: Alexei Navalny, Ilya Yashin and Ksenia Sobchak all attended the interrogations.[140] The rally was also the first to follow a new law passed in June 2012 to punish protesters with larger fines.[140] Participation in the protest was diverse, united only by opposition to Putin; in addition to the revolutionary anti-capitalist Left Front led by Sergei Udaltsov, black-clad Russian nationalists and liberals sporting white ribbons participated despite expressing mutual disdain.[141]

15 December 2012[edit]

On Saturday afternoon about 2,000 protestors gathered in Lubyanka Square in Moscow, the location of the headquarters of the Federal Security Services, a successor to the KGB. A requested permit to lay flowers at the memorial stone in the square was denied.[144] There were mass arrests including Aleksei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov of the Left Front, Kseniya Sobchak, and Ilya Yashin. Those arrested, if prosecuted and convicted, face heavy fines under recently enacted legislation which outlaws organizing or participating in unauthorized demonstrations.[145]

13 January 2013: March Against Scoundrels[edit]

March Against Scoundrels

On 13 January 2013 a protest called the "March Against Scoundrels" was held in Moscow protesting passage of the Anti-Magnitsky law, a bill banning adoption of Russian children by people in the United States. A permit was sought and issued. According to the police there were about 10,000 participants.[146]

According to oppositioners counting there were from 30 to 50 thousand people. According to bloggers' counting – 24,474 participants.[citation needed]

6 May 2013[edit]

On 6 May 2013 a mass rally took place in Moscow. Among featured speakers were Boris Nemtsov and Aleksei Navalny.[147] Opposition leaders put the number of attendants at up to 50,000, though police stated 7,000 took part.[148]

18 July 2013[edit]

On 18 July 2013 Aleksei Navalny was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement.[149][150][151] After the verdict was read, thousands gathered in Moscow's Manezhnaya Square to protest it.[152]

Rallies in support of the government[edit]

Putin supporters on 23 February Luzhniki rally.

Simultaneously with the anti-government protests, the government and United Russia were supported by rallies of the government funded youth organizations.[153]

4 December 2011[edit]

On 4 December, Nashi took to the Moscow streets with 15,000 young people that had been brought to Moscow from more than 20 regions and held meetings and concerts on the Revolution Square and Manezhnaya Square to express their support of president Medvedev and prime minister Putin.[154]

6 December 2011[edit]

On 6 December, about 5,000 activists from Nashi and other pro-Kremlin youth groups held pro-government rallies on Manezhnaya Square and Triumfalnaya Square.[154] To a New York Times reporter, it seemed that many of the participants in the rally were forced to attend.[155]

12 December 2011[edit]

On 12 December, the 18th anniversary of the Constitution of Russia, thousands of United Russia sympathizers demonstrated in Moscow in support of Putin.[156]

23 February 2012[edit]

Pro-Putin concert at Luzhniki Stadium: public at the stadium field. Placards with slogans: "I'm for Putin as I'm for the Motherland!", "Putin – Power, Putin – Glory, Putin – Great Russia!"

On 23 February, Russia's Defender of the Fatherland Day, a massive pro-Putin march took place in Moscow. The march ended in Luzhniki Stadium, where a crowd of 130,000 (according to police estimates) was addressed by Vladimir Putin.[6][157] The BBC reported, however, that some attendees claimed they had been made to take part or paid. Some said they had been told they were attending a "folk festival". After Putin spoke, popular folk band Lubeh took to the stage.[158]

Putin's speech in Luzhniki was his single speech before such a large audience during 2012 presidential campaign. In the speech he called not to betray the Motherland, but to love her, to unite around Russia and to work together for the good, to overcome the existing problems.[159] He said that the foreign interference into Russian affairs should not be allowed, that Russia has its own free will. He compared the political situation at the moment with the First Fatherland War of 1812, reminding that its 200th anniversary and the anniversary of the Battle of Borodino would be celebrated in 2012.Putin cited Lermontov's poem Borodino and ended the speech with Vyacheslav Molotov's famous Great Patriotic War slogan "The Victory Shall Be Ours!" ("Победа будет за нами!").[159][160]

Panorama of the Luzhniki rally

4 March 2012[edit]

On the post-election rally of his supporters at Manezhnaya Square, while making an acceptance speech, Putin was for the first time ever seen with tears in his eyes (later he explained that "it was windy"). He said to a 110,000-strong audience: "I told you we would win and we won!"[7][161]

"Anti-Orange" protests[edit]

24 December 2011[edit]

On 2 December on Sparrow Hills, Sergey Kurginyan and his movement "Sut' Vremeni" (Essence of Time) organized the first protest against what was viewed as "orange" protesters in Moscow. The protest also supported the slogan "For Fair Elections".[18]

4 February 2012[edit]

Demonstrators with the "Putin – Our Choice" banner

Alongside smaller rallies that gathered 50,000 people throughout the rest of the country,[5] the large "Антиоранжевый митинг" ("Anti-Orange protest") was held on Poklonnaya Hill in Moscow, near the World War II memorial complex, the largest protest action of all the protests so far according to the police.[20] It was organized by a number of public organisations: Patriots of Russia party, Kurginyan's "Sut' Vremeni", "Congress of Russian communities", "Regional public fund in support of the Heroes of the Soviet Union and Heroes of Russia"[18] "Trade Union of Russian citizens", "Pensioner Union of Russia", "Russian Union of Afghanistan veterans", "Assistance to realisation of constitutional rights of citizens 'Human rights'" group and others.[162]

According to the Moscow police, 138,000–150,000 people participated at the protest at the peak of attendance, while more people could have passed through the site.[114][163] Opposition groups, however, disputed these figures "as grossly inflated", and some journalists, including one of the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti, said the real number was "much lower".[164] The infographics from Ria Novosti shows that the Poklonnaya Hill site can provide room for a maximum of 193,000 people at a density of 35 people per 10 sq m, or for 117,000 people at a smaller and more realistic density distribution.[165] Some demonstrators, many of whom were state employees, said they attended under threat of dismissal. Some such claims made in the course of the protest organization were later refuted as falsifications by the opposition activists[5] and many other demonstrators said they came on their own free will according to a pro-government news site politonline.ru.[5] Vladimir Putin acknowledged that some attendees could have been coerced, but said that it was impossible to gather so many people by administrative pressure alone.[166][167]

The participants were mostly middle age, but there were many young and old persons.[5] Some of the participants were bused from other regions and cities with the transport provided by organizations participating in the action.[5][168] At a temperature of −21 °C, a number of heat guns were set up, as well as tents with free hot tea and confectionary.[5]

The resulting large attendance at the protest was not expected, and resulted in a traffic jam in a nearby Kutozovsky Avenue.[5] The organizers of the protests applied to the Moscow authorities to gather 15,000 people, but since the number was exceeded, they were faced with paying a fine.[166] Vladimir Putin, who earlier in the evening claimed to share the ideals of those who would go to Poklonnaya Hill,[169] offered to pay part of the fine with his own money.[166]

The "anti-Orange protest" name alludes to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the most ill-known to Russians color revolution. The term "orange" in Russian political discourse has highly negative connotations.[170][171][172] The speakers declared to be against "orangeism", "collapse of the country", "perestroika" and "revolution",[20] reminding the public of such historical events as Gorbachev's Perestroika and the 1917 Russian Revolution and urging never to repeat them. The call for fair elections was supported, but the leaders of protesters on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue were condemned as "successors to those who destroyed the country in 1991 and 1917"[5] and who allegedly want "to remove not Putin, but the Russian state".[20] The visit of anti-government protest leaders to the U.S. embassy was condemned, as well as the alleged American interference.[5]

Pop-rock singer and composer Denis Maydanov performed on the scene,[173] and pop-rock group Diskoteka Avariya sang their popular song "The Evil Approaches".[5]

The symbol of the "anti-Orange protest" was an orange snake strangled in a fist.[174] The motto of the protest was "Нам есть, что терять!" (We have things to lose).[20] The top slogan chosen by online vote was "Не дадим развалить страну!" (Won't allow collapse of the country!) and among those frequently used were "Мы за стабильность" (We are for stability) and "Когда мы едины и мы непобедимы!" (When we are united we are invincible!).[175]

Speakers on Poklonnaya Hill[edit]

Media coverage[edit]

RT team covering protests in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on 10 December 2011

According to the BBC on 7 December, "State TV channels have ignored the protests, giving coverage only to rallies in support of the government."[55] In contrast, newspapers have mentioned the protests in more depth.[178] The only federal TV station to mention the protests at length before 10 December was the independent, but not broadcast widely, Ren TV.[178] By 10 December, however, breaking with practice in recent years, all the main state-controlled channels were covering the protests, and in a professional and objective manner.[179][180] According to Russian media, workers at state controlled television had refused to broadcast if the protests were not covered.[181][182] Western media covered the protests extensively starting on 5 December.[183][184][185][186][187] Initial coverage by Fox News used footage of the 2011 Athens riots, showing palm trees, people throwing Molotov cocktails at police, and signs in Greek which Fox later claimed was an error and subsequently removed the report from its site.[188]

Starting from 10 December all major Russian TV channels extensively reported on protests, and the leaders and participants of anti-government protests were invited to speak on TV on a number of occasions.[citation needed]

Internet[edit]

Twitter users in Russia have reported being overwhelmed by pro-government tweets timed to Bolotnaya Square protest-related tweets.[189] Many tweets seem to have been sent by hijacked computers, though the perpetrator(s) are not yet known.[189]

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal a request was made by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), to the social media site VKontakte to block opposition groups who 'encourage people to "trash the streets, to organize a revolution." The request was declined due to the generally peaceful nature of the protests.[190]

Sites and naming of protests[edit]

The two largest protest actions in December 2011 took place on Bolotnaya Square (10 December) and Academician Sakharov Avenue (24 December), and another major protest action is planned on Bolotnaya on 4 February 2012. This resulted in the campaigners being dubbed the "Bolotnaya-Sakharov opposition",[191][192] or taking into account the root meanings, the "swampy-sugar opposition." Former Speaker of Russia's State Duma and a leader of the United Russia party Boris Gryzlov advised Russians to "keep away of all those swamps", alluding to the phrase from the Russian film adaptation of Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles ("As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor" in the original book).[193]

Symbols[edit]

White ribbon, used by the "for fair elections" protesters.[194]

The white ribbon emerged in October 2011 as a symbol of opposition and since the elections has picked up momentum. Some Russians have been tying it to their clothing, cars, and other objects, and the motif has appeared on runet and on Twitter.[194] By 10 December, the Dozhd television channel was showing a white ribbon by its on-screen logo. The station's owner, Natalya Sindeyeva, explained this as being a sign of "sincerity", rather than "propaganda", and an attempt to be "mediators" instead of simply journalists.[180] NTV described 10 December as the day of "white ribbons".[180]

Vladimir Putin contemptuously referred to the white ribbons used by Russian protesters, comparing them to condoms[92] being used as a symbol of the fight against AIDS.[34][195]

Reactions[edit]

Russian officials[edit]

Russia President Dmitry Medvedev ordered an investigation into allegations of vote-rigging, though this received a cynical response from many opponents on his Facebook page.[196] He also defended the right of people to express their views, while denouncing the street protests.[196] On 22 December 2011, he called for a number of reform steps, including reintroducing the direct election of governors and reducing the required signatures for registering a political party or running in the presidential election.[197] A bill reintroducing direct election of governors was introduced in the Duma on 16 January 2012.[198]

At his annual question and answer TV conference Vladimir Putin answers Alexey Venediktov's question: "I'm glad that people appear who actively voice their position. I repeat, that if that is the result of 'Putin's regime', I'm glad that such people appear."

Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Hillary Clinton "set the tone for some opposition activists" to act "in accordance with a well-known scenario and in their own mercenary political interests <...> our people do not want the situation in Russia to develop like it was in Kyrgyzstan or not so long ago in Ukraine."[199][200] Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on 12 December that, "Even if you add up all this so-called evidence, it accounts for just over 0.5 percent of the total number of votes. So even if hypothetically you recognise that they are being contested in court, then in any case, this can in no way affect the question of the vote's legitimacy or the overall results."[196] On 15 December 2011, Putin claimed that the organizers of the protests were former (Russian) advisors to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko during his presidency who were transferring the Orange Revolution to Russia;[201] he also claimed some organizers were paid by "foreign powers".[202]

On 27 December 2011 Putin reassigned Vladislav Surkov to the task of advancing Russia's modernization and development efforts; he remains a deputy prime minister but will no longer oversee Russia's political processes. Putin suggested that a dialogue with the protestors on the internet might be productive, but while upholding the right of the protestors to protest, criticized them for lack of direction and lack of a program relevant to Russia's development, comparing them to "Brownian motion, going every which way.[203]

Russia Vladislav Surkov, political adviser to the Kremlin and Chief of Russian Presidential Administration, who had been developing strategies for Russia to cope with an uprising such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine has recognized the vital nature of the demonstrators but hopes to head off development of a potentially revolutionary movement by instituting reforms such as those announced by Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev in his state of the nation address made 21 December 2011. According to Surkov, "The system has already changed".[31]

Russia The rights of at least three Western television news channels (the BBC, CNN and Bloomberg) were suspended in Moscow by major provider Akado Telecom on 12 July 2012.[204][205] While the move was not officially linked to the protests, but rather to outdated licences, Alexei Navalny noted that it came just three days after comments by President Putin that "Russia's policies often suffer from a one-sided portrayal these days".[204][206]

Foreign officials[edit]

United States Jay Carney, President Barack Obama's second White House Press Secretary, said that anti-government protests in Russia are a "positive sign" for democracy in the country.[207]

Other reactions[edit]

Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union and General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, has called on the authorities to hold a new election, citing electoral irregularities and ballot box stuffing. He criticized Vladimir Putin and the United Russia political party for violating peoples human rights and for not ruling the country in a proper Democratic fashion.[208] During the next major round of demonstrations that occurred on 24 December, he called on Putin to resign.[101]

Interpretation of protests[edit]

The 2011 protests were the biggest in Russia since the 1990s, and surprised many with their scale. According to Victor Shenderovich, an opposition political commentator for radio station Ekho Moskvy, "This is political, not economic. The coal miners came out because they were not paid. The people coming onto the streets of Moscow are very well off. These are people protesting because they were humiliated. They were not asked. They were just told, 'Putin is coming back.'"[33] According to Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist this humiliation of the rising middle class is the common ground the Russian movement shares with the Arab Spring.[209] According to the New York Times, another "explanation is the high level of public corruption [in Russia], which threatens new personal wealth. A second is a phenomenon seen in Gen. Augusto Pinochet's Chile, that economic growth can inadvertently undermine autocratic rule by creating an urban professional class that clamors for new political rights."[33] An additional explanation is that "Putin's unilateral announcement in September that he would run again for the presidency, in effect swapping places with Mr. Medvedev" contributed greatly, something some "Russians now snidely refer to [...] as "rokirovka" – the Russian word for castling in chess".[33]

Imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky has claimed that the protests were inspired, at least in part, by the example of the Arab Spring.[210] He told The Guardian, "We have only to reflect on the events in countries swept up in the Arab Spring to recognise the transformation taking place in the compact between the rulers and the ruled. While there are certainly many differences between those countries and Russia, there are some fundamental similarities."[210] In March 2012 Sergei Mironov, running for the presidency of Russia, also compared the situation to the Arab Spring, saying that: "Whoever wins the presidency, if he does not immediately begin deep political and social reforms [...] Russia will be shaken by a kind of Arab Spring within two years." The Telegraph pointed out that since Mironov is a former ally of Vladimir Putin, he could have been trying to scaremonger "as a subtle way of endorsing a crackdown on street demonstrations that are expected in the days after the vote".[211]

Repression[edit]

8 June 2012 in response to increased militancy by a segment of the protest movement a law was enacted imposing severe penalties on protesters who engage in unauthorized demonstrations or who exceed the boundaries of authorized ones. Maximum penalties were fines of several thousand rubles or imposed labor of up to 200 hours.[212]

On 11 June 2012, the day before a scheduled protest in Moscow the homes of the prominent activists, Kseniya Sobchak, Aleksei Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov and others were raided and extensively searched. Literature, electronic data, lists of supporters, and funds were seized. The activists were ordered to report to the Investigative Committee of Russia for questioning during the scheduled protest. [213]

Opposition Coordination Council[edit]

Due to the fractured nature of the opposition, in June 2012 activists decided to create a 45-member Opposition Coordination Council (OCC), which would try to coordinate and direct dissent in Russia.

Elections for the council were held on 20–22 October 2012. 170,000 people had registered on the site cvk2012.org, of whom nearly 98,000 were classed as "verified" and nearly 82,000 had cast their votes.[214][215][216][217][218][219]

Most votes were cast for Alexey Navalny.

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