MOSCOW — An uninformed tourist who happened to be in Moscow in the past three days could be forgiven for thinking that the Russian capital is under a military siege. Thousands of special police forces, interior ministry troops, the elite Dzerzhinsky Division, as well as Chechen police units, were brought to central Moscow to protect Vladimir Putin’s fraudulent “victory.”
According to the official results, Putin received 64 percent of the vote. Addressing his supporters, who were brought from across the country to downtown Moscow on Sunday night, Putin declared his “win” and denounced efforts to “destroy Russia’s statehood and usurp power.” According to a parallel vote count, conducted by the independent election-monitoring organzation Golos, Putin’s actual result hovers around the 50-percent mark—and that with the removal from the race of Grigory Yavlinsky, the only truly alternative candidate, and television coverage heavily skewed in favor of the regime. The usual tricks, such as ballot stuffing, “carousel” voting (voting multiple times), and the removal of election monitors from polling places, all made an appearance on March 4th.
On Monday, an estimated 20,000 Muscovites came out on Pushkin Square—the sight of the famous 1965 dissident rally—to protest Putin’s fraudulent “victory.” As I stood on the speakers’ platform, I saw a sea of faces and of flags, of different parties and movements, united by a common demand for a fair vote. The protesters chanted “Russia without Putin!” and demanded new parliamentary and presidential elections. Those who addressed the rally included opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, Grigory Yavlinsky, and Mikhail Kasyanov, as well as presidential candidate Mikhail Prokhorov (who received 8 percent according to official results, and 17 percent according to Golos’s parallel vote count). Hundreds of protesters were detained by police Monday evening when they attempted to remain in Pushkin Square after the rally.
As I walked with Boris Nemtsov and a group of pro-democracy activists from Pushkin Square to the Kremlin, through streets filled with thousands of interior ministry troops, I could not help thinking that the “winner,” who barricaded himself behind several lines of security forces, did not have much to celebrate. His time is running out.
The author dictated this post to World Affairs staff via phone from Moscow on Monday, March 5.
Photo by Vladimir Kara-Murza