MOSCOW — Thousands are expected to turn out for one final protest in Moscow today ahead of next Sunday’s presidential election, calling for a fair vote.
It’s the latest in a string of demonstrations against Vladimir Putin that were unimaginable here just three months ago.
Protesters will link hands along the ring road surrounding central Moscow in what’s being called a “Big White Circle,” named after the opposition’s iconic white ribbons.
Unlike previous protests which, after the first spontaneous one following the fraudulent Duma elections, were all sanctioned with permits, today’s protests have not been approved.
More than 14,000 people have pledged to attend via social media, though past turnouts have always exceeded expectations.
Still, even double that figure would be a much lower turnout than previous protests, including one earlier this month during frigid winter weather.
That, combined with rising poll numbers for Putin, may signal some fatigue among the Russian opposition who have resigned to the fact that Putin is likely to win the March 4 vote.
The hand-holding protest may not provoke arrests, the mayor says if they stop traffic police will begin to arrest people.
A group of young communists plans to burn Putin in effigy later in the day, though they’ll likely be detained before they can do so.
A long list of Russian opposition figures plans to appear at the protest, including several establishment leaders but also some new faces that have energized the protests.
Perhaps chief among them is Alexy Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger who has become the face of the young opposition. He hasn’t hidden his own presidential ambitions some day.
Roman Dobrokhotov, the one responsible for the giant “Putin, go away!” sign in front of the Kremlin earlier this month, will also be there.
One of the most surprising opposition voices has been Ksenia Sobchak, often dubbed the Paris Hilton of Russia who is also Putin’s godchild.
She has come out strongly against Putin in recent months and even had her MTV talk show canceled when she tried to highlight Navalny and the opposition movement.
Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion has been a Putin critic for some time, will also be there but he enjoys only marginal influence.
On Saturday, Navalny led thousands more in protests in St. Petersburg, Putin’s hometown.
According to wire reports they shouted “Russia without Putin!” and “Putin is a thief!” Despite the demonstrations in the big cities, Putin is still expected to win next week’s vote, with or without fraud. Even independent pollsters put his support at over 60 percent.
The question becomes how he can govern after this. While President Obama would dream of a 60+ percent approval rating, it is a very low figure for Putin, who regularly enjoyed over 80 percent approval and little resistance from the country’s empowered class.
Experts here agree that Putin will be hard-pressed to govern with impunity as he did before. He will have to answer to a newly energized opposition.
One big reason for the energized opposition has been the political awakening of the country’s youth, a often generation derided for being interested more in the latest fashion than in politics. That, too, is changing.
Many of them admit that before December they did not think much about national politics.
“I’m getting more mature probably. The whole society is getting mature,” said Alena Bykova, a twenty-something PR manager for a major electronics store chain who plans to volunteer as an election monitor.
She says she feels a “new wind” in her country and says she is determined to catch fraud at the polls.