Thousands Defy Kremlin Intimidation and Rally in Moscow

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Today's rally was different, in both energy and size.

While accurate crowd counts were elusive, organizers estimated more than 26,000 people had turned out. Police put the figure at only several thousand, a claim that was mocked by one of the speakers on the stage.

Many of the humorous signs that defined earlier protests were gone, replaced by the sober reality that change will not come easily. The chants, while still strident, were largely the same refrains as before. The crowd packed together and shifted their feet to fight the chill that blew in from the river.

Lubov Parango came to the rally in support of her friend Vladimir, who is among the 20 who were detained for their alleged role in last year's protest violence. The two met during an earlier protest. She dismissed the small crowd size, noting it was held on a Monday evening during a holiday period. She said change is afoot in Russia.

"People are awakening and gathering and maybe there aren't too many people here tonight, but the main thing is what is happening inside their heads," she said.

Others conceded things will not change overnight.

"There is no way out for the moment for the time being," Andrei said.

He also admitted the government's intimidation campaign has been effective in keeping some people home.

"There's less people because of fear of course," he said.

Philipp, the Facebook flag bearer (who has repaired his banner and waved it proudly), said the intimidation will only harden the opposition.

"It just motivates the opposition and people begin to think about it and media talks about it. It was not very popular, but now people understand this is the only way we can change things," he said.

If anything, the crowd seems to have gotten over the disappointment of Putin's victory last year and are girding themselves for a long fight. They believe the rest of the country will eventually be with them.

"It's like religion. It grows inside you," Tatiana said. "Everyone understands that to make real change we have to wait like 50 years, but we need to show what we are thinking."

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