Photo by Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images
UPDATE: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made it clear Thursday that he won't go along with any plan to scrap his nation's disputed parliamentary election and hold a new vote.
"From my point of view, the result of the election undoubtedly reflect public opinion in the country," Putin said during a marathon call-in Q-and-A show that was broadcast live to the nation.
He continued: "As for the fact that the ruling force, United Russia, lost some ground, there is also nothing unusual about this. Listen, we have gone through a very difficult period of crisis, and look at what is happening in other countries."
Reuters reports that during the question-and-answer session, which lasted more than four hours, Putin hinted at the prospect of ever-so slightly easing his political control but for the most part shrugged off questions from callers about the significance of the recent massive demonstrations from anti-Putin protesters.
Monday, Dec. 12: Putin has a challenger. A real one.
Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who made a fortune in metals and owns the NBA's New Jersey Nets, announced on Monday that he plans to run against Vladimir Putin in Russia's presidential election next March, BBC News reports.
"I have made the most serious decision of my life. I am running for president," Prokhorov said.
The announcement comes amid rising discontent in Russia with Putin's plan to swap his prime minister job for that of President Dimitry Medvedev, who in any case was widely seen as Putin's puppet. Putin, who already served two terms as president before giving way to Medvedev, has been booed at public appearances since announcing in September he planned to run again. And his party, United Russia, has been accused of voter fraud in elections earlier this month, in which it lost its majority in Parliament.
Until recently, Putin's party has faced few real rivals for power, by design. Prokhorov and another would-be reformer, Aleksei Kudrin, were both expelled from the Kremlin's inner circle this fall after clashing with establishment leaders, the New York Times notes. Kudrin, for his part, has announced he is forming a new party to push for political liberalization. Prokhorov, forced out as leader of the pro-business Just Cause party, plans to run as an independent candidate.
“You may remember, the Kremlin removed me and my allies from Just Cause, and we were not allowed to do what we wanted,” he said, according to the Times. “It is not in my nature to stop halfway. So for the last two and a half months we sat and worked, very calmly and quietly, and we created all the infrastructure to collect two million signatures."
Sunday, Dec. 11: If there were a “distrust” button for Facebook, Russians would be setting a record on President Dmitry Medvedev’s page today.
In the wake of large protests Saturday that called for an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s influence on Russian politics, President Medvedev promised via the social media site that he has ordered a probe into allegations of electoral fraud during the parliamentary vote on Dec. 4th.
But as the Associated Press reports, the promise generated mostly angry response in a short time by over 4,000 users.
Some wrote, “we don’t believe you,” while others asked whether the current president supports the slogans from Saturday’s protests which called for fair elections. The post did not say what body or organization would conduct the probe.
A spokesman for Putin — who has been Russia’s president twice and plans to run again for a third term in 2012 — said that the current prime minister “respects the point of view of the protesters.” Saturday’s protests were the largest such action since the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years ago.
President Medvedev gained a following for being slightly more democratically minded than his mentor and predecessor, but has reportedly angered his own loyal supporters by willing to step aside as Putin plans to run to replace him this coming spring.
The BBC reports that of the comments on Medvedev’s page, two-thirds were negative or outright hostile towards the president, suggesting a growing frustration and anger with what opposition leaders in the country say is a disregard for fair and honest political practices.
Saturday, Dec. 10: The largest protest in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union—20 years ago this month—brought tens of thousands to the center of Moscow Saturday, to call for an end to the political power and influence of Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party.
Chanting anti-Putin slogans like “Russia without Putin,” the crowds called for new parliamentary elections in that country after those held on December 4th drew widespread accusations of fraud and ballot-stuffing by Putin’s party. Anti-government activists also called for the release of several hundred protesters who were arrested last week in the wake of the elections.
“I want a real party, not some pocket opposition,” protester Sagit S. Shamsutdinov, 56, told The New York Times. “Our children and our grandchildren have no future in the government. The falsification was so nasty. They stole our votes.”
According to police, as many as 25,000 were present at the protest filling and spilling out of Bolotnaya Square—organizers estimated between 40,000 and 80,000. Smaller events took place in various other cities around the country. Many, according to the Times, appeared to be protesting for the first time, and came from a wide range of the country’s various opposition parties.
Ahead of Saturday’s rallies, authorities had warned that protests could create a national disaster, and claimed demonstrations were fomented by the United States in the hopes of a violent overthrow of Prime Minister Putin. But the sheer size of the rallies apparently made them impossible for Russia’s leaders to ignore.
From the Associated Press:
"Whatever the precise number, it was a show of dismay that gave pause to the ruling elite. State-controlled TV channels that usually ignore or deride the opposition gave notable airtime to the protests. A top United Russia official, Andrei Isayev, acknowledged late Saturday that 'expression of this point of view is extremely important and will be heard in the mass media, society and the state.'
Officials in many cities, including Moscow, gave permission for the protests. But in what appeared to be an attempt to prevent young people from attending the protest, Moscow's school system declared Saturday afternoon a mandatory extra school day for grades 9 to 11. Students were told about the decision only on Friday, news reports said."
Friday, December 9: Russian authorities will allow protesters to stage a massive demonstration on Saturday after all, the Associated Press reports.
The planned rally, which is expected to draw thousands, had been in question after police cracked down on similar protesters earlier this week, arresting hundreds who turned out to voice their anger over last weekend's disputed parliamentary election results.
But the weekend rally could still very well lead to a repeat of the previous crackdown. Russian authorities say they will allow up to 30,000 people to take part in the protest, which will take place across the river from the Kremlin. But more than that number have already signed up to attend via Facebook, and Russian authorities have also made it clear that they won't allow any marches to or from the rally site.
Opposition leaders are comparing the protest to those before the end of the Communist regime in the country: "We expect it to become the biggest political protest in 20 years," Ilya Ponomaryov, a lawmaker and Left Front opposition movement leader, said at a news conference, the AP reports.
The Russian authorities, however, may have a trick or two up their sleeves to depress the turnout. The Daily Mail says that, among other things, the government has taken the unprecedented move of hastily organizing mandatory Saturday exams for students 14 to 17, to take place during the hours of the protests.
Thursday, December 8: Vladimir Putin has found someone to blame for the growing unrest in Russia: Hillary Clinton.
The Russian prime minister is accusing the U.S. secretary of state of encouraging and even funding Russian demonstrators who have taken to the streets in Moscow and elsewhere to protest this past weekend's disputed parliamentary elections.
The Associated Press reports that Putin said Thursday that Clinton "gave a signal" to his opponents. "They heard this signal and with the support of the U.S. department began their active work," he said in televised remarks, adding that the U.S. is spending "hundreds of millions" of dollars in a bid to secretly influence Russian politics in hopes of weakening a rival nuclear power.
The BBC reports that roughly 1,000 people have been arrested in Moscow during three days of post-election protests. Organizers have called for another protest on Saturday.
Wednesday, Dec. 7: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Wednesday called for Russian authorities to scrap the increasingly disputed results of this past weekend's parliamentary vote and hold a new one.
"More and more people are starting to believe that the election results are not fair," Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency. "I believe that ignoring public opinion discredits the authorities and destabilizes the situation."
The Associated Press, which called Gorbachev's comments a "remarkable development," explains that it is somewhat shocking that the voting results have generated so much interest when the actual election was mostly an afterthought for many Russians: "Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had wanted to see his United Russia party do well to pave the way for his return to the presidency, but few Russians seemed to care about the vote, with many saying they assumed the results would be manipulated anyway."
Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 2:34 p.m.: The show of force by Russian police didn't deter anti-fraud protesters on Tuesday, as demonstrators again took to the streets in Moscow and elsewhere for their second day in a row following the nation's increasingly disputed parliamentary elections.
The Associated Press reports that nearly 500 people were detained during Tuesday's action, including at least 250 in downtown Moscow, where city police claimed, in the words of the news wire, that "flare-type fireworks were thrown at a group of pro-Kremlin youth."
Russian media reported that another 200 or so protesters were arrested at a similarly unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg and another 25 protesters were detained in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. These incidents bring the total number of arrests since Sunday's parliamentary elections to nearly 800.
Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 10 a.m.: Thousand of Russian police and government troops are reportedly patrolling Moscow on Tuesday, one day after anti-Vladimir Putin demonstrators held one of the largest opposition rallies in the city in years and two days after Putin's party took a serious hit in the latest parliamentary elections.
The BBC reports that police arrested 300 protesters at the Monday event—during which demonstrators chanted "Russia without Putin"—including Alexi Navalny, which the network described as "a top anti-corruption campaigner and fierce critic of Mr. Putin."
Meanwhile, Putin looked to downplay his United Russia party's losses in this past weekend's parliamentary elections in which it won the election but failed to win a majority of the vote. The results were seen as a sharp rebuke of Putin and his government, an analysis that was only cemented with Monday's protest.
Electoral losses "are inevitable for any political force, especially for one which, not for the first year, bears the brunt of responsibility for the situation in the country," Putin said.
The Associated Press with more: "The loss of United Russia seats and the widespread complaints of vote fraud have energized Russia's beleaguered opposition forces. Putin's comments appeared aimed at saving face and discouraging the opposition from seeing United Russia as vulnerable."
Monday, Dec. 5: The United Russia party took a serious hit in the latest parliamentary elections, but the true degree of the rebuke voters appeared to send Vladimir Putin's party may have been even larger.
The Associated Press reports opposition leaders and election monitors say that even United Russia's lackluster results in the parliamentary elections were likely inflated because of voter fraud. Those concerns, which were backed by international observers, were echoed Monday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"Russian voters deserve a full investigation of all credible reports of electoral fraud and manipulation and we hope in particular that then Russian authorities will take action" on reports that come forward, Clinton said.
She added that "the Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. That means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them."
Sunday, Dec. 4: Perhaps taking photos with cute animals is not a re-election strategy after all.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the already-twice former president who will run again in 2012, has suffered an apparent referendum along with his United Russia party at the polls.
The BBC reports that voters at exit polls on Sunday gave the powerful Russian party 48.5 percent support—a notable dip from 67 percent support in 2007. It may result in only 220 seats for the party in the 450-seat governmental body over the next five years, which would be a big drop from the current number of 315.
The results also appear to show that Putin’s popularity has dropped notably since the previous election, though he is still expected to win a third term as president easily in March.
Sunday’s vote to choose the country’s lower house, Duma, was not without other controversy. Russia’s sole independent election monitoring group Golos logged over 5,000 allegations of voter fraud before it’s website was hacked on election day, and fined earlier in the week for breaking a law against publishing election opinion research within five days of an election. Websites of other outlets that have been critical to Putin or the ruling party, like radio station Moscow Echo, were also hacked running up to voting.
“The attack on the website on election day is clearly an attempt to inhibit publication of information about violations,” said Moscow Echo editor Alexei Venediktov via Twitter, according to the BBC.
Reuters reports that within the country, United Russia leaders appeared stunned by the apparent referendum, and many voters expressed a souring opinion about Putin's dominance in Russian politics and policy.
As one 30-year-old history teacher from St. Petersburg put it to Reuters: "United Russia has lost touch with reality."
Maybe they've been too busy being amazed at the prime minister's "good luck" of randomly discovering ancient treasures during scuba trips?