Thousands of Russians protested in Moscow and St. Petersburg again today, determined to send a message to President-elect Vladimir Putin: This isn’t over yet.
In Moscow, the rally was smaller than previous demonstrations, but the crowd was no less vocal. Chants of “Russia without Putin” and “Putin is a thief” rang out loudly and often. Hundreds of riot police stood by, but only a few people were arrested as they tried to stage another protest after the permitted demonstration ended. Others were arrested in St Petersburg as well.
Today was seen as a critical juncture for the opposition movement as it faced questions about how to sustain itself after Putin won Sunday’s election, as well as how to overcome internal divisions. Organizers have not announced a date for the next rally.
Many protest leaders were quick to admit that the current strategy of demonstrations has probably come to a close. Instead, some are proposing channeling the anger and energy that has driven tens of thousands to the street into other areas where they can try to affect change on local and legislative levels.
Alena Popova, a protest leader whose arm was broken as she was arrested after last Monday’s protest, said the key will be remaining united.
“I believe that we can change the situation. I believe that we should be here, because we should gather everybody in one place not just separately,” she said.
That may be difficult to do as the opposition movement has remained deeply fractured. Liberals have shared the stage with hardcore nationalists. Most speakers don’t agree on anything other than their opposition to Putin.
Many in the crowd recognized that the protest movement has reached a turning point, but vowed to continue the effort.
“We will came again because we want the change in our country,” said 20 year-old Ilya Vailiev.
Natalya Lebedev, a 42 year-old mother of four, said today was her first time protesting. She said she felt compelled to send a message to Putin.
“I want to show it is not finished that we are going to show that we will not support corruption government,” she said.
Like many others, she felt confident that, while turnout is dwindling, the protest movement itself was not fading.
“I am sure that it will continue, may be it will be other format but it is not finished,” she said.
Vera Kichanova, a 21-year-old student and opposition member who was surprised when she won a seat in her local council on Sunday, says she plans to fight corruption from the inside and try to unwind the bureaucratic tangle that is a common complaint in Russia. She also vowed to remain an active participant in the protests.
“Now it is not time to ask the permission from the authorities,” she said.