On Saturday, between 50,000 and 80,000 people marched through the streets and boulevards of downtown Moscow to protest Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine and his illegal annexation of Crimea. Carrying Russian and Ukrainian flags and posters reading “For your freedom and ours,” “For Ukraine and Russia without Putin,” “Ukraine, forgive us,” and “Russia is us, not Putin!” the participants of the country’s largest opposition demonstration since the peak of the protest movement in 2011–2012 marched from Pushkin Square to Andrei Sakharov Avenue.
In Kyiv, members of the Ukrainian Parliament began their session with a standing ovation to the tens of thousands of Muscovites who went to the streets to say “No” to Putin’s actions.
“We have no right to behave in this way toward a friendly nation,” opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said in Moscow, holding a Russian flag and addressing a human sea of protesters. “It is ignoble. It is petulant. It is harmful to Russia.” “I was in Kyiv a week ago, I walked on the Maidan, and I did not see any fascists or Banderovites there,” Nemtsov added, in reference to the relentless Kremlin propaganda that claims that Ukraine has been seized by “fascists,” and that the Russian government must therefore intervene to “protect Russians in Ukraine.” Saturday’s antiwar demonstration itself was depicted on Russian state TV as “a march against the reunification of Crimea with Russia,” whose participants “chanted Banderovite slogans.”
The Kremlin’s far-fetched “antifascist” pathos proved even more absurd when Russian state media touted “international monitors,” who validated Sunday’s Soviet-style 97 percent result in Crimea’s official annexation “referendum.” The head of this “international monitoring mission” was Mateusz Piskorski, a Polish far-right sympathizer who once headed a neo-Nazi magazine, Odala, that glorified Adolf Hitler and the “Aryan race” and promoted Holocaust denial. The “monitoring mission” in Crimea also included Belgian far-right politicians Luc Michel and Frank Creyelman, and Hungarian ultranationalist Bela Kovacs—all of them, presumably, also principled fighters against “fascism” in Ukraine.
As always, the Kremlin tried to imitate public support for its actions in Ukraine by staging rival pro-Putin rallies, but, as prominent Russian journalist Alexander Podrabinek has noted, “the number of people sympathetic to Ukraine on the streets of Moscow was several times higher than the number of supporters of the occupation of Crimea. This gives hope that the aggression [against Ukraine] will eventually stall, and that Russia itself will one day be free.”
Like the seven demonstrators on Red Square who protested against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the people who joined the antiwar rally in Moscow last Saturday stood up for the honor of Russia. Only this time, they were not a handful, but tens of thousands.