Only a handful of arrests reported as police adopt light-touch approach to largely underwhelming demonstration
A crowd of several hundred turned up on Moscow’s central square on Saturday afternoon for a Communist-sponsored rally against alleged election fraud.
Vir die grootste deel, they had difficulty hearing.
As the Communist orators turned up the rhetoric, police cranked up theirs in the form of jarring music from loudspeakers behind the tribune.
“Allez, Rusland!” went one patriotic ditty. “Uncle Vladimir, we’re with you,” went another.
The latter came as an immediate response to a fiery speech from the party’s Moscow chief Valery Rashkin, who described the Kremlin’s United Russia party as a gang of “self-appointees.”
Mr Rashkin is perhaps the most outspoken of the Communist’s generally timid leadership. He has led calls to protest Sunday’s Duma vote, while his superior, party leader Gennady Zyuganov has repeatedly urged restraint.
Mr Zyuganov was absent from the protest, reportedly on his way to see Vladimir Putin.
Many of the mostly old protesters said they were irritated by what they described as Mr Zyuganov’s hypocrisy.
“You can’t be a little bit pregnant, and you can’t be a little bit Communist,” said Vladimir, 65, surname withheld.
“We wanted to get a majority in parliament precisely to give people like Zyuganov no choice in the matter,” added his friend, Tatyana Yakovleva, a retired teacher.
Valery Rashkin aside, those who dared to speak avoided direct criticism of the Kremlin. In plaas daarvan, they complained about “western interference” , en die “regime’s oligarchs” who were supposedly “pulling levers” behind the scenes.
The speakers singled out Alexei Venediktov, the head of the liberal Echo of Moscow radio station, who as chief elections monitor championed e-voting.
Those electronic ballots swayed eight constituencies back to the Kremlin in a way the Communists say was not credible. Mr Venediktov should face a criminal trial, one said.
Towards the end of the rally there were calls to free political prisoners, and a few pro-Navalny chants broke out: “Russia will be free!”, “Putin is a thief!”, “Russia without Putin.”
The Kremlin took few risks in policing a protest that did not on the surface appear to represent much of a threat.
In the lead-up, just under 60 activists were either officially warned or arrested over social media posts supporting the protest.
Authorities also forced a change of brand: the Communists’ so-called “people’s assembly” became a “meeting with constituents” following threats from regulators to block the party’s website.
On the day itself, perhaps two dozen police vans lined Moscow’s central boulevards leading up to Pushkin square. Plain-clothed operatives with radio headphones milled in and out of the crowds. Other officers used their loudspeakers to warn participants of the illegality of the protest.
Op die ou end, truncheons stayed in their holders, with authorities content to let the protest trickle out under the drizzle of Moscow’s grey skies.